Questions & Answers
Park Expansion Opportunity
How was the compromise of allowing Davidon to build 28 homes and KCPP to purchase a major part of the Scott Ranch for public parkland reached?
Representatives of the Kelly Creek Protection Project spent months in extensive negotiations with Davidon Homes to strike a balanced deal that protected the most environmentally important parts of the property and maximized opportunities for a park expansion while allowing Davidon an economically beneficial use of its property. The Kelly Creek Protection Project agreed to pay Davidon to reduce the number of homes to only 28, the minimum allowed by the current zoning designation for the property. Davidon in turn agreed to update its proposal to reduce the footprint of the development, protect viewsheds, and lessen impacts on existing homes in the area.
Why were negotiations between KCPP and Davidon Homes held in private?
As is typical in complex real estate transactions, KCPP found it necessary to engage in private negotiations with Davidon to hammer out the details of a legal purchase agreement. The concerns raised by hundreds of Petaluma residents were all brought to the table by KCPP’s representatives.
What happened to the option of acquiring the entire property for $11 million?
KCPP met the deadline to purchase more than three-quarters of the Scott Ranch land by depositing $4.1 into escrow before September 1, 2018. The Purchase and Sale Agreement allowed another three months (to December 1) for KCPP along with the community to raise another $6.9 million to acquire the whole 58 acres. We successfully raised $230,000 more but fell short of the complete buyout price. The extra funds we raised will go for park improvements, operations, and maintenance.
How would the 47 acres of Scott Ranch land become part of Helen Putnam Park— owned and operated by Sonoma County Regional Parks?
Once a Final EIR for the Scott Ranch project is certified by the City Council, followed by the necessary reviews and entitlements related to Davidon’s 28-home development, KCPP can close escrow and acquire title to the 47-acre heart of Scott Ranch. The first steps of our park extension development and all the legal arrangements for transfer of title to Regional Parks will begin promptly after we complete the purchase of the 47 acres.
What is the expected timing of the construction of the various elements of the park extension project?
The various elements of the Putnam Park Extension Project component would be implemented in three phases:
- Phase 1 would last approximately three to four months and would include grading the upper parking lot and completing the construction of the lower parking lot and associated infiltration basin, two pedestrian bridges, temporary restroom, north segment of the loop trail with connection to Helen Putnam Regional Park and the barn center.
- Phase 2 would last approximately six to nine months and would include construction of the upper parking lot off Windsor Drive, permanent restroom, playground, group picnic area, trail along D Street and Windsor Drive to the barn center, internal bracing of the barns, ephemeral drainages restoration, pasture improvements, planting, and irrigation.
- Phase 3 would last approximately three to four months and would include completion of the south segment of the loop trail, installation of the third footbridge, and barn restoration.
Once the property is transferred to Sonoma County Regional Parks, the exact timing for implementation of the different phases of the Putnam Park extension project will depend on available funds and priorities of the Sonoma County Regional Parks District. KCPP plans to collaborate with Parks in pursuing grant funding to support the improvements described in our park plan. But that can occur only after the City approves the project and we have closed escrow on the 47 acres Davidon has agreed to sell to KCPP.
Is Sonoma County Regional Parks on board with the park extension plan developed by KCPP?
KCPP has consulted with Parks every step of the way, and Parks leaders have expressed their enthusiastic support of this effort.
What funds are already available to make the park improvements called for in the Scott Ranch concept design plan?
We have raised over $5.1 million for both acquisition of the Scott Ranch land and to help pay for Phase 1 improvements. That includes $4.1 million of public and philanthropic donations, which we deposited into escrow for the purchase, $1 million from the county’s Ag + Open Space matching grant program, and tens of thousands of dollars from generous donors.
Where is the money coming from?
Earth Island Institute’s Kelly Creek Protection Project has raised $4.1 million now in escrow to purchase 47 acres of the Davidon land. Additional funds are expected to come from a $1 million matching grant from the Sonoma County Ag + Open Space District, freeing up that amount for development of trails, bridges, restrooms, and parking lots for public recreational access.
Will donations be used by KCPP to pay for anything other than the purchase of this land?
All donations we received before July 31, 2019 will support improvements required before the property can be transferred to Sonoma County Parks. Funds raised starting August 1, 2019 may be used to assist KCPP with administrative costs associated with securing approval for the project.
How will the park development, maintenance, and operations be paid for?
KCPP has already raised more than $1 million that can be used for development of key aspects of the park (such as trails, restrooms, and parking). KCPP will continue to seek public and private funds to restore and improve the wildlife habitat, the ranch buildings, and the public experience. Once the land is donated to the Sonoma County Regional Parks District, Parks will maintain and operate the park.
How would the new trail connect to existing trails within Putnam Park?
Sonoma County Regional Parks is pursuing plans to build a 1/2-mile trail that will connect the Scott Ranch trail north of Kelly Creek to the existing Ridge Trail within Putnam Park. As this map shows, the new trail will switch back up through trees on the south side of the creek (to avoid erosion of the open slopes) and join the existing trail well away from the Victoria homes on Oxford Court.
Will horses be allowed on the new trails in the Putnam Park extension?
Yes, the trails north and south of Kelly Creek will be multipurpose trails that will allow hikers, bikers, and equestrians.
How does this 28-lot housing subdivision plan differ from previous proposals presented by Davidon?
The subdivision for which Davidon Homes is seeking approval as part of this agreement is a more modest version of the 28-lot design previously included as an alternative in the EIR, and significantly smaller than the 66-unit development Davidon was pushing for at that time. Davidon has further refined its proposed 28-home plan since it was introduced to the City in early 2021. The final plan for which Davidon is seeking approval includes homes that have less square footage and are on smaller lots than those in earlier versions of the proposed housing development. It includes an increased buffer between the housing development and the parkland and existing homes, relocating nine homes farther away from both Kelly Creek and the northern boundary of federally designated critical red-legged frog habitat.
Why did KCPP and Davidon Homes settle on 28 homes as part of their negotiations?
The community effectively challenged the 2017 EIR because that document had failed to give serious consideration to the “environmentally superior alternative” of a 28-home residential plan. The City Council heard those concerns and specifically requested that a revised EIR focus on a 28-home plan. In response, the Scott Ranch plan provides the public with a far superior, limited 28-home alternative footprint, building on only six acres of the 58-acre ranch.
Will the homeowner’s association (HOA) for Scott Ranch be responsible for maintaining the extension of Putnam Park?
The residential portion of the project will have an HOA, which will be responsible for maintaining the five acres of open space around the houses as well as the larger infiltration basin. The HOA will not be financially responsible for maintaining the 47-acre park portion of the property, which will be owned and managed by Sonoma County Regional Parks.
City Review Process
What is the current zoning for the Scott Ranch property?
Our proposed park extension and housing development plan calls for 28 homes clustered within only 6.4 acres of the 58-acre Scott Ranch. That is well below the maximum number of homes that could be built under the existing zoning, leaving room for a potential 47-acre expansion of Putnam Park onto the most environmentally sensitive portions of the property.
What has to happen to protect Scott Ranch from development?
What is the timeline for review and approval of the proposed development plan put forth by KCPP and Davidon Homes?
We expect the Petaluma City Council to review the Final Environmental Impact Report for the project sometime in Fall or Winter 2021.
Could the City Council declare that no houses can be built anywhere on this land due to environmental problems? Can the City force Davidon to give up the land and donate it for open space and parkland?
Davidon Homes owns Scott Ranch and by current zoning designation is allowed to build at least 28 homes there under the City’s General Plan. Landowners cannot be forced to give their property away even if they can’t subdivide and develop it. Refusing Davidon some reasonable economic use of its land could expose the City to a potential “unconstitutional takings” lawsuit.
What if the City doesn't approve the Final EIR and the project application for 28 homes?
If Davidon does not receive approval for its 28-home proposal, it has no obligation to sell the 47 acres to KCPP. Davidon would be free to reapply to the City to build more than 28 homes or to sell the property to another developer with no restrictions on the property. See this guest editorial published by the Argus Courier for further perspective on what could happen if the combined Putnam Park Extension/Limited 28-Home project is not approved.
How has the public participated in the formation of the Scott Ranch parkland/housing proposal that is before the City Council?
This proposal represents the culmination of over 15 years of substantial community discussion about the ultimate best practical use of the old 58-acre Scott Ranch since Davidon Homes purchased it in 2003 for $7.8 million. Kelly Creek Protection Project (KCPP) entered negotiations with Davidon in 2017. KCPP’s position in these negotiations was fully informed by the range of public concerns raised in 2017 during the Planning Commission and City Council hearings as well as those expressed in hundreds of written comments regarding Davidon’s initial massive residential plans going back to 2013 and earlier. At all times during the negotiations, KCPP kept front and center the very valuable community perspectives on the importance of protecting this beautiful and historic ranch land.
The $4.1 million purchase agreement – to acquire more than three-quarters of the 58-acre ranch for half the price Davidon paid for the entire property in 2003 – will protect the most environmentally sensitive areas and make the land accessible as a public park. The final version of Davidon’s housing plan was also further refined after the community, Planning Commission, and City Council provided feedback during the hearings for the RDEIR for the project.
What are some examples of how this plan is responsive to public comment submitted on previous versions of the Scott Ranch development plan?
The proposed limited 28-home residential plan is attractively spread out with natural landscaping across 6.4 acres of the property, plus nearly five additional acres of open space within the housing development envelope.
The housing development will feature multiple environmentally sustainable features, such as solar panels, electric car charging stations in every home, and all-electric power sources. These homes will be built with fire resistant materials. All the homes will now be located well to the north of Kelly Creek.
The plan before the Council leaves the red barns and pastureland undisturbed. Davidon has also committed to constructing infiltration basins that will capture and clean the stormwater flowing from the new homes and existing roads before it enters Kelly Creek and runs through downstream properties.
Additional benefits provided by Davidon in the current proposal include water and sewer utilities to the new park extension, grading parking lots and trails, and adding sidewalks including along Windsor Drive and D Street. Davidon will also construct a roundabout at Windsor Drive and D Street that will greatly enhance public safety and access to the park while reducing the speed of traffic along D Street.
How can the public weigh in on the plans for the Scott Ranch land?
The public will have a chance to attend and participate in public hearings held by the Planning Commission and the City Council regarding the Final Environmental Impact Report in Fall 2021. The final decisions will be made in open public sessions by the City Council.
What is the benefit of allowing cows to graze on Scott Ranch?
Grazing cows reduce fire risk by reducing flammable grasses. They also prevent degradation of habitat by foraging on exotic nonnative grasses. Cows currently graze on Scott Ranch; with implementation of the project they will likely continue to graze but will be kept away from the areas near the creek and stock pond to prevent erosion and harm to native species. Biological studies have found that the grazing of cows is compatible with—and beneficial for—the conservation of red legged frogs.
How will the California red-legged frog and other wildlife species be protected?
This property contains some of the best habitat for the threatened California red-legged frog in the region. By protecting Kelly Creek and the land surrounding it, this habitat is preserved – providing an irreplaceable haven for this species and others that rely on a healthy riparian and aquatic environment.
Were new biological surveys conducted for the red-legged frog as part of the environmental review for the updated proposal now before the City?
Both the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service have confirmed that no additional red-legged frog surveys need be conducted. Conducting such surveys can actually harm the red-legged frogs. Instead, the environmental analysis assumes the frogs could be anywhere on the Scott Ranch and includes measures to reduce to an insignificant level the impacts the new homes and park improvements might cause. This spring, after the March 2021 Council meeting on the RDEIR, City staff engaged a biologist and a botanist to conduct an updated survey of the Scott Ranch biological resources. Their reports will be discussed in the Final Environmental Impact Report prepared by the City.
How will the Scott Ranch project affect VMT and climate change?
The City’s RDEIR found that the Scott Ranch project will result in a significant transportation impact because of the vehicle miles travelled (VMT) by project residents. To avoid a significant VMT impact, per capita VMT for project residents must be at least 15% below the City’s average VMT for existing residents. Because of its location, the Scott Ranch project cannot meet this threshold. Indeed, unless located downtown, most future residential projects will also exceed this standard.
The City is working to develop a program of measures to reduce VMT that new development can help fund. But because such a program is not yet in place, the RDEIR concluded the project’s VMT impact would be unavoidable, even though Davidon will contribute its fair share to measures that are later developed as part of the City’s program. Davidon is not satisfied with this conclusion and is working with the City to identify specific projects or programs Davidon can fund to reduce vehicle miles travelled citywide, with the goal of actually reducing the project’s identified VMT impact to an insignificant level.
It is important to remember that VMT reduction is just one of the tools the state has identified to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and that the RDEIR’s analysis shows the Scott Ranch project would not cause a significant GHG impact. The Scott Ranch project incorporates many measures to fight climate change and achieve the goals of the City’s Climate Emergency Framework. The project’s permanent dedication of 47 acres of public open space (and nearly five acres of private open space) land including wetlands, tributaries, critical habitat, and mature trees will also further the City’s climate action goals by sequestering carbon in perpetuity. The project’s post-development storm drainage system includes detention and infiltration basins and vegetated swales within the park boundary to capture, treat, and slow stormwater runoff before discharge into Kelly Creek, thus providing a nature-based stormwater management system that will contribute to ecosystem health and climate change resiliency. Furthermore, the combination of sidewalk connections down D Street, safe crosswalks, and the park entrance at the red barns will enable more Petaluma residents to access Putnam Park by foot or bicycle rather than driving. Likewise, the location of new Putnam Park parking lots closer to town will lessen the distances driven by many visitors by one-half to two miles, reducing carbon emissions. And the residential project itself will go beyond stringent state and city carbon-reduction standards by providing EV charging at every residence and by planting far more trees (approximately 159) than the City’s tree ordinance would require.
How would the Scott Ranch Project affect wildfire risk for existing residents in the neighborhoods around the property?
The Scott Ranch Project includes a Fuel Management Program that analyzes fire behavior and identifies measures to reduce the risk of wildfire. Those measures are all now part of the project. The City’s environmental analysis concludes that the combination of wildfire-wise management practices planned for the park portion of the property and the vegetation management, defensible space, and fire-safe building materials planned for the Davidon homes will actually reduce the risk of wildfire for existing homes in the area.
How would the Scott Ranch Project affect the ability of the neighborhood to evacuate safely in the case of a wildfire?
To ensure the Scott Ranch Project would not clog traffic during a wildfire evacuation, the City analyzed the capacity of local roadways and how 28 homes would impact the ability to safely evacuate. The environmental analysis concluded that, “the proposed project would not exacerbate nearby roadway network capacity during worst-case traffic conditions.”
How will the Scott Ranch project affect traffic in the neighborhood?
The analysis in the City’s environmental review documents shows that traffic congestion in the neighborhood will decrease as a result of the project. The project will add a traffic circle at the intersection of D Street and Windsor Drive, which will slow down traffic along D Street and make it easier and safer to turn onto Windsor Drive from D Street and vice-versa. And by completing the 800-foot sidewalk gap between Windsor and El Rose/Sunnyslope, Davidon will increase safe pedestrian access between downtown and Windsor, likely lessening vehicular trips.
Will the new parking lots proposed as part of the Scott Ranch plan address the parking and traffic challenges currently faced by residents of the Victoria and West Haven developments?
If our proposal to expand Putnam Park is approved along with the Davidon 28-home plan, two new parking lots with a total of 37 spaces will be available to visitors. Those lots will offer visitors more entrances with amenities like restrooms and a playground. Park users can pay $7/day to park in a Regional Parks lot or purchase a Regional Parks annual parking pass, which ranges from $5-$69, depending on the driver’s status (senior, low-income, etc.).
We have every reason to believe the new lots will be well used and therefore relieve traffic and congestion on surrounding streets. However, if that proves not to be the case, it will ultimately be up to the City of Petaluma to consider options like a parking permit system or time-limited parking on the streets near the park.