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Would set up financing for energy improvements similar to Sonoma CountyMarin County residential and commercial property owners may soon get access to long-term financing for energy- and water-efficiency upgrades, similar to what has been available since this spring through the Sonoma County Energy Independence Program.

The Marin Energy Authority was started by local governments in 2004 to promote what they proposed as "greener" electricity through a community choice aggregation program called Marin Clean Energy.

That goal is still developing, but a new goal is to potentially allow property owners to finance their own power systems via an Assembly Bill 811 voluntary assessment district, according to interim director Dawn Weisz.

[caption id="attachment_15596" align="alignleft" width="288" caption="Marin Energy Authority Interim Director Dawn Weisz at a windmill farm in Solano County that would be part of the Marin Clean Energy program"][/caption]

"No target date has been set," she said. "If we get funding, then we may be able to launch in three to five months."

The energy authority has been talking with officials involved in AB 811 districts in Sonoma County and Palm Desert, the two locales first to take advantage of the legislative authority granted last year.

However, the Association of Bay Area Governments earlier this year floated the possibility of a nine-county AB 811-type district.

The Marin effort, called the Solar and Energy Efficiency District, or SEED, would take about $500,000 to launch and promote, according to Ms. Weisz. Marin Energy Authority has all local governments as members except Novato, Corte Madera and Larkspur, but a separate agreement would allow them to participate in the SEED, she said.

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North Bay governments are under a Jan. 1 deadline to adopt their versions of the state Department of Water Resources' Water Efficient Landscape Ordinance, which was promulgated in February. There was initial indication the implementation would be delayed until 2011, but the original start date is locked in, according to Daniel Muelrath, Santa Rosa water conservation program coordinator.

After six months of work on crafting the state ordinance to local conditions, a committee of conservation agency staff members, local government planners, landscape contractors and architects, and environmental-protection advocates from Sonoma, Marin, Mendocino and Napa counties this summer developed a model ordinance they hope will be adopted by governments in those counties.

The Santa Rosa City Council is set to consider the ordinance in November in time to be adopted by year-end, according to Mr. Muelrath. One difference from the state version in Santa Rosa's is the absence of the requirement that users who exceed their budgeted irrigation use by 20 percent would have to make changes to comply. Santa Rosa already requires water budgets and monitors them monthly to work with customers before water use exceeds budgets by that much, he said.

Napa Valley government attorneys are reviewing their versions of the ordinance, and the county of Sonoma is doing likewise.

Carolyn Wasem, whose family is an owner of the Airport Business Center commercial real estate park north of Santa Rosa, said the new ordinance falls short because it deals only with new and significantly reworked landscaping, which won't address the millions of square feet of turf already installed.

Collective efforts to cut water use by 50 percent below 2004 figures – as the park's water supplier, town of Windsor called for – have been successful. But government design requirements that call for installation and maintenance of turf must change to allow replacement of turf with water-wise landscaping. And there has to be some program to help vacancy-vexed property owners pay for the tugging of turf.

Yet some property owners who see ample water in the Lake Sonoma reservoir or some filling of Lake Mendocino from spring rains aren't yet convinced that tugging turf will be standard property-management procedure from now on.

"It's not a question of water behind the dams but timing of the releases for fish and safety for floods," Ms. Wasem said. "There's plenty of water there, but you can't release it at the time you need it because of the fish."

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Sleep City Mattress Center, a 17-year-old company with eight North Bay locations, opened a store in the closed Couches Etc. building in downtown Petaluma this summer with room for a showroom of different products, including new products made from organic and natural materials, according to Mark Thomas, owner of Couches Etc. and co-owner of Sleep City with his brother, Mike, and Al Koran. Sleep City hadn't been in Petaluma because Couches sold mattresses.

The new products in 2,000 square feet of the 10,000-square-foot Petaluma store are Canada-based Natura, which contains certified organic materials, and Yuba City-based OMI, which uses Sonoma County wool for fireproofing as well as certified organic cotton and natural rubber. Prices for both mattresses range from $1,000 to $4,000.

Sleep City has survived the dramatic slowdown in furniture purchases since mid-2006 and general lack of buying in the past year by aggressively shopping for insurance and corporate credit card rates as well as replacing in-house delivery staff with six dedicated trucks operated by Delivery Logistics.

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In the next few months, those involved with Windsor's Sustainable Design Assessment Team effort through the American Institute of Architects on a "green" buildout for the central Old Redwood Highway corridor will be blending the recommendations with economic-development strategies developed late last year, according to Mitch Conner, town Planning Commission chairman and a principal of Santa Rosa-based Archilogix.

"The planning staff has been given a strong directive from the council to stay with it," he said.

The SDAT team is set to make its standard follow-up visit early next year to help implementation efforts.

Another aid in implementation is a town planning department effort to link information about vacant parcels along the corridor between Arata Lane and Shiloh Road and parcels with uses that don't conform with long-range planning with interactive computer mapping software. An intern this summer has been linking information about highest and best uses developed from the various planning processes with parcel information in Google Maps. The map could be ready in four months, according to Mr. Conner.

Eventually, the parcel information could be cross-referenced to SDAT report information.

"I've been to meetings on economic development in different communities, and they've all talked about the need for a tax base, and Windsor and possibly Cloverdale can get ahead of the curve by sending a message to the financial community, architects and engineers about the town's willingness to do things," Mr. Conner said, referring to Cloverdale's forthcoming station area plan. "It's our way to define shovel-ready projects."

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Submit items for this column to Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com, 707-521-4256 or fax 707-521-5292.