Letters to the Editor on the topic of a proposed park in the Cardoza Ranch/Tolay Lake area of southern Sonoma County

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Press Democrat, January 15, 2004

Public Hearings

EDITOR: Cheers to the Board of Supervisors for its experiment with evening sessions. The board should immediately put on the agenda the issue of evening hearings on Open Space District priorities, rather than wait until "late 2004," as reported in your Dec. 28 article, "Fruitful year to preserve land."

Last year, the Petaluma Parks Commission asked the district to provide the commission with a tour of the Cardoza and Roche properties, slated to be bought for $30 million (roughly $200 per county household.) We were told such a tour was "premature." A rare few Petalumans have seen much of this property. Many consider the purchase a mistake. Yet, the project seems to be moving toward final approval regardless. Does the district fear informed public opinion could jeopardize their deal?

If our supervisors truly want more open government, and public support for the Open Space District, they will schedule public tours of Cardoza/Roche and a public hearing on the Open Space District's priorities in Petaluma before they approve this unprecedented, costly transaction.

Member, Petaluma Recreation, Music and Parks Commission

Press Democrat, January 5, 2004

Setting Priorities

EDITOR: I was pleased to read in your Dec. 28 article "Fruitful year to preserve land" that the Open Space District is planning a series of public forums to set new priorities. Such public meetings were the key request in my "Close to Home" guest column published Aug. 19. But, what are we to make of the statement that the forums "could begin in late 2004?" Why not early 2004? Why not now?

Also in this recent article, we are told that the district is "going to run out of money" due to huge expenditures under consideration, notably, the tens of millions of dollars that could be spent very soon to buy the Cardoza and Roche properties near Sears Point, the topic of my column last summer. Doesn't it make sense to discuss how the Open Space District is spending our money before it is all spent? Let's set priorities before breaking the bank on these ruinous and highly controversial acquisitions, not after.


Press Democrat guest op-ed column, August 23, 2003

Getting the Facts Straight on Tolay Park Proposal

Published on August 23, 2003
2003- The Press Democrat


In a recent Close to Home ("Is Tolay Park project the best the county can do?") about a possible south county park that involves our ranch, writer Larry Modell didn't have his facts straight. And because people often believe what they read in the papers, I thought I might be able to clear up some of the misinformation.

First, Modell implies that a restored lake in Tolay Valley would not be suitable for kayaking.

Since he has not spoken to us, nor has he been to the ranch to visit our seasonal lake, he would not know that we have often used both jet skis and boats on the lake. And if the year-round lake were to be restored, certainly something as large and enjoyable as Santa Rosa's Spring Lake is possible.

At one time, the county looked at this same valley as a reservoir site for millions of gallons of water storage, so a recreational lake suitable for small boats and kayaks is reasonable. In fact, had the early settlers not drained the lake, it might be a year-round lake still.

Modell also implies that a large south county park would "vacuum" up all the park funds for years to come.

It is my understanding that in addition to the current available Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District funds, outside grants and state funds as well as donations may be available for this project because it would include lake and wetland restoration and extensive park programs, and because the area is rich in archeology.

As a matter of fact, unlike Lafferty Ranch park, this project has statewide significance, qualifying it for state monies. It is my understanding that some $5 million or more may be brought into this project, precisely because of the site.

In addition, there have been discussions of keeping the pumpkin farm in operation in order to fund ongoing programs. Very few park sites have such potential to assist with future operational costs.

Modell also implies that somehow the public process will be an end run and citizens will not have an opportunity for input.

This project has been under consideration for almost two years. It has been approved by the Open Space District's own citizen advisory panel and has received enthusiastic input from Sonoma County regional parks department, from the state Parks Department and the California Department of Fish and Game. As I understand it, public input in shaping the park activities and goals is always part of the process. Public hearings will be held to allow citizens to comment on the project. Modell's fears seem to be unfounded.

Lastly, Modell implies that there will be adverse environmental impacts in placing a park in Tolay Valley because of Infineon Raceway -- which is more than five miles away from our location. He also raised concerns about the proposed casino at Sears Point. The casino, of course, is no longer slated for the Highway 37 site. And perhaps Infineon Raceway and the future growth of Petaluma and surrounding communities actually add to the reasons why a park should be located in this picturesque valley in southern Sonoma County.

No matter what happens along Highway 37 or Lakeville Highway in the future, at least citizens (and wildlife) would have a lake and a nearby valley to enjoy with their children for years to come.

Rita Cardoza is a co-owner of Cardoza's pumpkin farm and a resident of Tolay Valley, near Petaluma.

Press Democrat guest op-ed column, August 19, 2003

Is Tolay Lake Park Project the Best County Can Do?

Published on August 19, 2003
2003- The Press Democrat


According to newspaper reports, Sonoma County's Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District is closing in on a major parkland purchase at the southern end of the county, involving the Cardoza property, and possibly the neighboring Roche property.

This proposed park could total 3,000 acres and cost tens of millions of dollars (a reported $18 million for the Cardoza property alone) -- the largest and most expensive regional park in the county by a very wide margin.

Without any doubt, southern Sonoma County is greatly deficient in parklands.

And some aspects of this park proposal deserve enthusiastic support, particularly the restoration of Tolay Lake on the Cardoza property, which was drained for farming a century ago.

Still, the staggering scale and cost of this proposal raises important questions which have not yet been answered, and which call for open public discussion.

First, the public needs a better idea of what kind of park to expect.

County officials have suggested kayaking as one possible use of the restored lake on the Cardoza property.

We can look at Laguna Lake, on Chileno Valley Road at the Marin County line, for an idea of what Tolay Lake must have looked like -- a shallow lake or wetland, varying greatly in size with the seasons. Such wetlands provide important habitat for migrating waterfowl and other wildlife, and lend themselves to appropriately sited trails, but they are not kayaking destinations.

What thought has been given to adjacent land uses, and how they would impact park users? Both properties, but particularly Roche, are close to the Infineon Raceway and (gulp) the proposed mega-casino. How would park users, and park wildlife, be impacted by noise, traffic, air and water quality, view degradation, and possibly light pollution from these neighbors?

The most troubling questions bear on the location of the proposed park, its relationship to planning documents and processes, and its opportunity costs.

Park planning started almost 40 years ago in Sonoma County. The most important current documents are the current (1989) general plan, the outdoor recreation plan (still in draft form), and the Open Space District's acquisition plan. These documents reflect scores of public meetings and many thousands of hours of effort by interested citizens and county officials to determine where parks and trails ought to go in Sonoma County, based primarily on scenic values and proximity to population centers.

Not one of these planning documents calls for any park or trail in the low, nearly treeless hills between Stage Gulch Road (Highway 116) and Sears Point, where both properties are located.

By way of comparison, the general plan proposes four parks -- none yet implemented -- on upper Sonoma Mountain alone.

Leaving aside for the moment the technical question of general plan compatibility, what is the rationale for overruling the consensus of all those citizens and officials through all those public meetings? Not all our countryside is equally scenic, and park acreage is not interchangeable.

Wouldn't this unplanned park, costing more than a year's total tax receipts by the Open Space District, vacuum up all the money for parks and trails, particularly in the southern part of the county, for many years to come?

Due to macroeconomic factors such as the grape glut, isn't it likely that many large, scenic parcels will become available at relatively attractive prices in the near future? Shouldn't we make sure our county and Open Space District are ready to implement our long-planned parks on short notice?

Do choices exist other than taking or leaving the entire, 3,000-acre park package? Could, for example, the lake be restored with appropriate trails, while selling off the less scenic portions to conservation buyers or ranchers with development rights and strategic trail easements retained?

In any case, shouldn't the Open Space District and regional parks air out questions like these before committing such a huge amount of public funds?

I respectfully urge the project's main champion, Supervisor Mike Kerns, to call a public meeting in the south county with staff members of those two agencies present to answer these and other questions before proceeding. Let's talk first.

Larry Modell is a Petaluma resident and a long-time supporter of a park at Lafferty Ranch on Sonoma Mountain.

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