January/February 2011 issue

The Comeback of the
Ecological Reserve

Dr. Mike Vasey

RBDA Executive Board Elections

12 January 2011 - 7:30 PM
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Ice Cream Grade & Pine Flat Road

The Evolving Ecology of the Bonny Doon Reserve


Renowned ecologist and manzanita expert Dr. Mike Vasey is coming to our Jan. 12 meeting to discuss the recent natural history of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve. Mike will share some of the insights he has gained regarding maritime chaparral and coastal fire ecology, with specific reference to the 2008 Martin Fire. Though we tend to forget it, we live in a fire ecology and, despite its suspicious origin, the fire was a needed and natural event, probably overdue. The Lockheed property at the end of Empire Grade and the Ecological Reserve are the two most extraordinary maritime chaparral habitats in California because of the dense concentration of unique endemics that have emerged here in response to tens of thousands of years of periodic fires.


Mike and a San Francisco State University colleague, Dr. Tom Parker, were chosen by the Nature Conservancy to conduct post-fire research and monitoring at the Reserve. Their monitoring effort has been focused on parts of the Reserve that burned most intensely: chaparral and closed-cone conifer forest. Each year since the fire Dooners have witnessed a spectacular new wave of vegetation in the Reserve while scientists have collected 2 years of data on post-fire regeneration. Mike will share preliminary results from the analysis of these data and reflect upon implications for future recovery of the Ecological Reserve and its conservation management.


Mike Vasey has taught conservation biology at San Francisco State for many years and during that time collaborated with Tom Parker and Jon Keeley in studies involving the ecology and systematic biology of Arctostaphylos, commonly known as manzanita. His knowledge of manzanitas in part motivated Mike to focus research on the ecology and conservation of maritime chaparral along California’s Central Coast where Arctostaphylos reaches its highest level of diversity. This research has served as the centerpiece of his PhD dissertation in the Environmental Studies Department at UC Santa Cruz. Mike is a recent past president of the California Botanical Society, past president of the Pacifica Land Trust, and has also participated in several years of tidal wetland research in the San Francisco Bay Estuary.


He is a dynamic speaker and has many fabulous photos. He is eager to answer your questions and hear your observations of Bonny Doon’s treasured Ecological Reserve.


Streamlining Zoning: Back to the Future?


In late 2007, the County Planning Department began a 3-step process of streamlining land use regulation. The first, in 2008, was concerned with small-scale residential projects [see the March/April & May/June 2008 Highlanders]. The second, “Minor Exceptions To Certain Zoning Requirements” (ME2CZR) came before the Planning Commission in October and to the Board of Supervisors Nov. 16.


While we applaud the goal of streamlining the County's often frustrating and confusing planning and permitting process, as with the first phase, the devil is in the details. The proposed changes are clearly aimed at dense urban areas of the unincorporated county like Live Oak, and indeed the examples Planning Staff cited in their presentation were all drawn from those areas. In broad strokes, the ME2CZR allow 4 sorts of exemptions to be granted by Planning Staff without public review, appealable only to the Planning Director: 1) an up to 15% reduction of required setbacks, 2) an up to 15% reduction of the separation between accessory structures, 3) an up to 10% increase in height, and 4) an up to 15% increase in lot coverage. The ME2CZR apply to the entire county, though, and in mountainous rural regions such as Bonny Doon, some of the details, both explicit and omitted, are indeed troubling.


First of all is the manner in which exemptions would be granted, shielded from public scrutiny. It is no secret that, in Santa Cruz County, former planning staffers have set up profitable businesses helping landowners navigate the permit process. Even the appearance that personal relationships could influence the issuance of exemptions or the conditions placed on an exemption undermines the legitimacy of land use regulation.


Second, there is the added burden and limitations of public review. Though immediate neighbors would be notified of exemptions, in response to the dire budget straits earlier this year, the County shifted the cost burden of non-mandatory public review on planning issues to the applicant for the review. Practically, this means that a neighbor who decides to inform Planning Staff of special local circumstances would have to pay $1,300. Moreover, the appeals process is limited to the Planning Department, with no recourse to officials accountable to the electorate.


Finally, there are issues with California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) compliance, both with individual exemptions and with the process by which Santa Cruz County land use regulations are being revised, piecemeal. While ME2CZR claims to be exempt from CEQA because it is necessary for the amendment of the local coastal program, it applies to the whole county. Even though ME2CZR is intended not to affect environmental site standards to protect sensitive resources, it also contains provisions for “grandfathering” existing structures which may have been built without permits, and does not specify how those protecting sensitive resources and legitimizing unpermitted structures will be harmonized. In fact, as currently written, ME2CZR provides perverse incentives for speculators to build without permits in unsuitable locations, then apply for exemptions post hoc. Lastly, the County's contention that the 3-phase revision is exempt from CEQA at each phase, hence exempt overall, requires a contentious interpretation of CEQA's mandate.


At the Nov. 16 Board of Supervisors meeting, several environmental organizations, including the RBDA, the Sierra Club, and the environmental law firm Wittwer Parkin raised these concerns. Most encouragingly, 5th District Supervisor Mark Stone, who represents the large mountainous rural area between Bonny Doon and Highway 17 and is one of 2 attorneys on the Board, questioned many of the same issues. His motion carried unanimously that the item be continued until Jan. 25 and Planning Staff be directed to review and take into consideration all the comments made, and revisit the standing of ME2CZR with respect to CEQA.

RBDA Board Elections at January 12 Meeting


As usual, elections to the RBDA Executive Board will be held at RBDA Annual Meeting Jan. 12. There are 4 candidates for the 4 positions whose terms expire in 2011, those of Miriam Beames, Ted Benhari, Marty Demare and Tom Hearn. Marty, Tom and Miriam were nominated for new terms at the November RBDA General Meeting, along with Jacob Pollock.

Statements from the 4 nominees follow.


Miriam Beames

Since we first visited Bonny Doon, now 16 years ago, my husband and I have loved this place and its people, and have wholeheartedly supported the RBDA’s mission.  And so, again this year, I was ready to stand as a candidate for a Board seat.


As it turns out, we will need to leave the area much sooner than we had anticipated, for a second retirement in a continuing care community, and I will not be able to complete the full term. I will remain glad that the RBDA exists, with goals and values—and people who are willing to work hard—to keep this place one that I cherish. I will also be glad that I could express my deep feeling for Bonny Doon through active participation in the RBDA. As always happens, in my experience, whatever I gave to this effort has been much more than repaid: I have learned about the land, the communities of plants, animals, and people; I have met wonderful and dedicated private individuals and public servants in the larger Santa Cruz community, who have taught me and helped me (and amused me); and I have, through shared interests, made some of the most meaningful friendships of my life.


I am pleased that when I resign, in accordance with the Bylaws, the Board will be able to appoint a most excellent person to replace me. Until we move, I will continue in every way I can to help the RBDA and to participate in this community which has given us great happiness.


Jacob Pollock

I fell in love with Bonny Doon when I was doing some research on a small endangered Spineflower at the new sandhills ecological preserve in the early '90s. I have visited friends and hiked here ever since. I returned to live here a few years back when my PhD adviser moved from his beautiful house on Wild Iris Lane and sold it to me. I had heard of the RBDA back during the goat ranch debacle and various other times over the years.


I have been active in environmental politics most of my life. When I was a public radio talk show host in Humboldt County in the '80s, I featured a number of environmental causes. During the Bush I years, I organized a statewide coalition of environmental groups to work on reauthorizing the Endangered Species Act. While getting my PhD in Ecological Mathematics at UCSC, I served on the conservation committee of the Santa Cruz Sierra Club. I was also very actively engaged in resolving the Cemex Chromium 6 problem, when I worked with a number of folks from Davenport in an ad hoc coalition. I have worked with biologist Don Alley doing analysis of steelhead monitoring in local creeks and as a student, I worked on a sample watershed monitoring plan for Majors Creek.


I have 2 kids who attend Pacific Elementary School in Davenport and I am active with their school board and serve as Site Council President. I have close ties to folks in Davenport, Swanton and Last Chance Road, which I hope to use to further collaborations on issues of mutual concern. I love to hike and look at plants, mushrooms and wildlife.


Most of all, I love it here and hope to help keep it rural by serving on the RBDA Board.


Tom Hearn

Serving on the Board for the last 4 years, as Highlander Editor and then as Treasurer, has provided me an opportunity to better understand the diverse community we live in and the elements of change that potentially threaten the Bonny Doon we know and love. I hope to continue on the Board to provide service to the community and to foster an environment that is inclusive of the broader community interests while preserving the rural and natural setting that makes this place so special.


Marty Demare

Since my last election, we've seen some of the land use issues affecting us evolve  in unforeseen ways. I remain interested in the future of the Coast Dairies property and the legal issues associated with the transfer process which are important for securing the public's voice in land use decisions. The closure of the Cemex plant and quarry also presents a dramatic and historic change for Bonny Doon and North Coast residents, and I look forward to representing your interests in the closure and reclamation process. I want to help the RBDA Board continue its longstanding service to the Bonny Doon area. I hope my term on the Board demonstrates my commitment to representing the membership's interest in keeping the area “rural and natural.”

LAFCo to Take Up UCSC Water Service


With a hearing on one lawsuit challenging UCSC’s application for water and sewer service expansion on its Upper Campus postponed until April, and another thrown out of court (though an appeal is possible), it appears that the Local Agency Formation Commission, (LAFCo) may take up the issue early in 2011.


The hearing on the suit brought by the citizens’ group Habitat and Watershed Caretakers (HAWC), charging inadequacies in the final version of the Environmental Impact Report related to the applications to LAFCO, has been put off until April, but a knowledgeable source told The Highlander that LAFCo might hold a hearing on the application before then. It was previously thought that LAFCo might wait until legal obstacles to the application were resolved before considering the matter. In a very unusual and disturbing action, the attorneys for the City, which certified the EIR last August, reportedly had the suit moved out of the courtroom of Superior Court Judge Jeff Almquist, whose current assignment is CEQA cases, to the courtroom of Judge Timothy Volkmann, who handles civil cases. Judge Volkmann is the one who in December dismissed the second suit related to the service expansion application, by the Community Water Coalition (CWC). It is uncertain whether CWC attorney Jonathan Wittwer will appeal the dismissal.


The CWC suit claimed that State law requires the City, not the University, to apply for the expansion of sewer and water services beyond City limits (that is, to the Upper Campus, located in Bonny Doon). Wittwer claims that not only was State law regarding LAFCo applications disregarded, but that the water/sewer service expansion EIR is legally invalid because it violates CEQA, the State Environmental Quality Act. Wittwer contended that unless the City makes the application LAFCo might be restricted from enforcing any conditions it puts on the service expansion, such as a delay until (and unless) a water desalination plant is built. LAFCo and City attorneys argued that the LAFCo commissioners can still impose any conditions they deem necessary.


Membership Renewals Due February 1


Your Board is hoping that if you’re a member, you’ll continue to support the RBDA by renewing. Remember, unless you signed up for a multi-year membership, all memberships expire on January 31!

We hope to substantially increase our membership this year in order to provide our community with the representation it needs regarding the substantial issues Bonny Doon is facing, including the disposition of the Cemex facility, Coast Dairies developments, and UCSC expansion and the impacts it will have on water and our quality of life. The greater our membership, the stronger our voice.


If you’re not currently an RBDA member, we hope that you’ll consider becoming a member and standing with us in our efforts to keep Bonny Doon rural and natural! The annual cost of membership ($15 for one person, or $20 for a household) is equal to 5 lattes at Peets’s, but the results are far more satisfying and energizing. Additional donations are rarely refused.


Just use the handy form on this website, www.bonnydoon.got.net/members.html


Judge Throws Out Coast Dairies Petition


Last fall, the RBDA Board voted to join a petition that sought a court order directing the County and the Trust for Public Land (TPL) to process a Coastal Development Permit before dividing the Coast Dairies property for transfer to ownership by the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Agri-Culture, a non-profit arm of the Santa Cruz County Farm Bureau.


TPL, acting as Coast Dairies & Land Company, has long sought to exempt itself from the permit requirement even though the process provides the public the best opportunity to affect how the public land will be used. The California Coastal Commission staff has also made it clear to the County and TPL that a permit was required. Yet, Superior Court Judge Timothy Volkmann was somehow able to get around State law, County code and the Coastal Commission staff and refused to rule on the merits of the petition, instead agreeing with the County that the cause for the petition wasn't “ripe” until the transfer was actually made. TPL argues that once a transfer occurs, it cannot be undone. In other words, the RBDA and the public are either too early or too late to have a say. That approach is like waiting until after the bank has been robbed to call the security guard.


It is likely that Judge Volkmann's decision will be appealed, because it would set several bad precedents if left standing. Meanwhile, since the County has refused to participate in the dispute resolution process required by State law, Coastal staff will take the matter to the Coastal Commission when it next meets in this area, probably in March. We will be sure to inform you when it is scheduled. Everyone who cares about the future uses of Coast Dairies land and wants the County to adhere to the law should attend that hearing.


Keeping Wilder Organic


Jacobs Farms, a North Coast organic grower, has won a suit aimed at preventing neighboring growers from contaminating its fields with pesticides. The case is significant because it establishes that California’s pesticide use laws don’t supersede other laws that protect neighbors from farms using the chemicals.


Jacobs’s 120-acre Wilder Ranch State Park fields are surrounded on 3 sides by those of conventional growers, who took all due precautions and followed regulations in applying the pesticides to their Brussels sprouts. Nevertheless, it was found that the natural actions of fog and wind had lifted the pesticides from the soil and plants (called volatilizing) and carried it onto Jacobs’s herb crops, preventing them from being sold because the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets no maximum tolerance level for organophosphate pesticide residue for the cilantro and other herbs grown by Jacobs. If they have any detectable amount of the pesticides they simply cannot be sold, either as organic or conventional.


California's 6th Appellate District Court upheld Jacob's right to sue the pesticide applicator, Western Farm Service, and let stand the $1 million award a jury handed Jacobs 2 years ago. The ruling becomes final in 30 days. The Appellate Court affirmed an earlier Superior Court decision that the spread of the pesticides onto Jacobs’s fields was a violation of negligence, trespass and nuisance laws despite Western Farm Service’s compliance with the pesticide laws, applying them in a way aimed at preventing their drift. In fact, until the incidents involved in this case it was unknown, at least to all but a few scientists, that fog and wind could volatilize the organophosphate pesticides in the soil and plants and carry them away.

[In the interest of transparency, we must note that Jacobs Farm owner Larry Jacobs is the brother of a former RBDA Board member.]

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The Highlander
The Rural Bonny Doon Association Newsletter
Box 551 • Felton, CA 95018

Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, 
The Highlander is mailed free to Bonny Doon residents prior to the 
RBDA General Meetings, which are usually held on second Wednesdays of 
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