CONGAS and new gas stations: Stop, go, stop! 

Stop, go, stop!
New gas stations proposed in Sonoma County 

By Jenny Blaker
Sonoma Group

The Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations (CONGAS) is keeping an eye on four proposed gas station projects, one in the unincorporated County, two in Santa Rosa, and one in Petaluma, as well as considering ordinances to severely restrict the permitting of new gas stations. Our main motivation is the climate crisis, although each site brings its own unique concerns.

We are also aware that the fossil fuel industry leaves destruction in its wake all over the world, and that those at the frontlines are all too often those who are the most vulnerable to the impacts of drilling, fracking, polluted water and land, and toxic air due to the transportation and processing of fossil fuels. While we “think global,” we can also “act local.”

On June 18, about 30 CONGAS supporters, including some Sierra Club members, arrived mainly by bike along the Joe Rodota Trail to protest the proposal for a 12-pump gas station with car wash, RV storage yard, and minimart at 5300 Sebastopol Rd., at the intersection of Highway 12 and Llano Road, between Sebastopol and Santa Rosa.

The plans include three, above-ground, 10,000-gallon tanks, two for gasoline and one for diesel, at an already congested intersection, in a flood plain, on the edge of the Laguna de Santa Rosa, on a scenic corridor, during the climate crisis.

By July 2, a number of CONGAS supporters were prepared to speak at the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments (BZA) virtual public hearing, during which the BZA was slated to consider a conditional use permit for the project.

We had been pouring over documents, trying to understand the nuances of Land Use designations, zoning codes, General Plan policies, and the Mitigated Negative Declaration with its 40-plus “mitigation measures” which were supposed to somehow reduce environmental impacts to “less than significant.” More than 140 people had submitted letters objecting to the proposal, along with 600 petition signatures. We were ready to speak on the potential for pollution to ground and surface water quality and neighboring wells, potential hazards from flooding, traffic congestion and safety, and impacts to cyclists and walkers on the Joe Rodota Trail.

Unexpectedly, two hours before the meeting was to begin, it was canceled. We don’t know why (although we like to think we may have had something to do with it).

Meanwhile, we got word that the gas station with convenience store proposed at 874 N. Wright Road (Highway 12 at Wright/Fulton roads), which was approved by the City of Santa Rosa’s Subdivision Committee in December 2019 and which we appealed, will be before the Santa Rosa City Council on Tuesday, August 18 from 4 pm onward. This project, known as Elm Tree Station, is for a gas station on a previously undeveloped site next to the Joe Rodota Trail.

The City of Santa Rosa has made policy statements about addressing the climate crisis, so this will be a good opportunity to remind them that permitting new gas stations is prolonging the life of outdated fossil fuel infrastructure into the future at a time when we should instead be investing in safe, accessible, affordable public transportation, safer and more connected facilities for cyclists and pedestrians, and facilities for EV charging rather than gas stations.

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Jenny Blaker is co-coordinator, with Woody Hastings, of Coalition Opposing New Gas Stations, founded in 2019 to stop the construction of new gas stations in Sonoma County. Our first big win was in July 2019 when a proposal for a gas station, car wash and convenience store in a rural area just west of Cotati was withdrawn by the applicant as a result of public opposition.