March/April 2015 issue

Pot Farming, Coast Dairies,
Event Centers and More

Ryan Coonerty,
3rd District Supervisor

Wednesday, March 11, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room,
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade

Coast Dairies: National Monument or a Monumental Mistake?

The growth pressure that has resulted in the megalopolis of the San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose, and the tourist hordes that besiege the Monterey Peninsula, have been kept largely at bay here by Santa Cruz County’s geographical isolation: we are protected by the mountains and the ocean, at once our greatest assets and our greatest detriments. The difficulty and danger of the Hwy. 17 commute has denied us much of the economic benefits of living in the San Francisco Bay Area, while at the same time we must provide all our own water and nearly all of our own jobs. To those of us who live here, and perhaps most of all to those of us who choose to live in Bonny Doon, the natural beauty and mild climate, the peace and quiet, the redwoods and the ocean, are well worth the sacrifice.

Nevertheless, over these last 40 years, the slowly burgeoning population has had a significant impact. While our growth rate is slower than most California population areas, the university continues to bring in a thousand more students each year, and the people who serve them. The Hwy. 1 corridor is gridlocked each morning and evening commute, and Mission Street is stop and go, swollen with visitor traffic every sunny weekend.

Here in Bonny Doon, as isolated as we are, pressures are increasing. From people eager to cash in on the lucrative and increasing popularity of marijuana, or trying to turn their property into businesses to offset huge mortgages and the high cost of living, our enjoyment of our remote mountain community is under attack.

Now an even greater threat is loudly and quickly gaining momentum: the campaign to designate the 5,800 acres of Coast Dairies as a National Monument. If this happens, and it has a pretty good chance, it may be followed by the addition of the 8,500 acres of the San Vicente Redwoods, the former CEMEX coastal chaparral and timberlands. This would form what the leaders of the Sempervirens Fund envision as the “Great Park.” Once again, our greatest asset may become our undoing.

What will it mean if, as seems very possible, this comes to be? In all likelihood the Cemex cement plant property, or part of it, will become the Curry Village of Santa Cruz County. Of course, this will change the town of Davenport forever. Traffic, at least on dry season weekends, on Highway One between Davenport and Santa Cruz, will increase many-fold, to the detriment of locals, including the hundreds who ride their bikes on it each Saturday and Sunday. Beach parking lots will overflow, and, without adequate trash pickup, litter will abound. Police and fire and rescue departments, without additional resources, will be overmatched. (Cattle have had Coast Dairies to themselves for many years. Photo by Ted Benhari.)

Supposedly, local support is the linchpin for convincing Congress or the President that National Monument status is a good idea. But is it? Is that what we want, to become a mega-tourist destination? When Ft. Ord became a national monument, visitation increased 9-fold, from 40,000 to 400,000 annually.

Was that what was envisioned when local leaders and concerned environmentalists began the fight in the 1970s to preserve our gorgeous North Coast? Yes, of course we thought there would be public recreational use, and we looked forward to it, but the main motivation was to prevent housing development (an entire new town north of Santa Cruz was then in the works, and, Hallelujah!, defeated) and preserve the land for its exquisite beauty and invaluable natural habitat for fauna and flora, and as the watershed for a significant portion of the City of Santa Cruz’s water, not to make it an international tourist attraction.


The rationale its supporters use for designating Coast Dairies a national monument is that it will add to the environmental protections and provide more funding for facilities and personnel. We are skeptical. The restrictions that are written into the property’s deed, originally by the Packard Foundation, which put up the lion’s share of the purchase price, plus the Coastal Development Permit language (which the RBDA and others pushed the Trust for Public Land, Coast Dairies’ then-owner, to apply for), already provide adequate protection. There is no certainty that monument status will bring any additional public funding, although historically private foundations have been more willing to contribute money to support properties that are designated national monuments.

Coast Dairies guided tour, photo by Ted Benhari  

The national monument campaign may be unstoppable, but we need to make it clear that we cannot support it unless we are guaranteed that the additional impact from the hordes of visitors it will lure will be matched by adequate funds for police and fire and rescue services (the County doesn’t, and hasn’t for years, even had the funds to assign a permanent deputy to the North Coast, and County Fire stations have only minimal staffing); trash collection; and a management plan to protect the precious biotic resources of the property. At least this last will happen before it is thrown open to the public, though some limited access may occur before the plan is complete and approved. Implementing the plan is another matter. BLM, which owns Coast Dairies, is stretched very thin, and a Republican Congress seems unwilling to boost its budget in a significant way, if it all.

Alas, the support of Bonny Doon and Davenport may prove irrelevant, as the pep rally for the monument effort on Feb. 12 at the Kaiser Permanente Arena launched the snowball, already huge, rolling quickly downhill. Santa Cruz’s own John Laird, the State’s Natural Resources Secretary, gave the effort Gov. Jerry Brown’s blessing, and our Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, messaged that she is poised to introduce into the House of Representatives a bill creating the monument. Only a few pre-screened comments and questions were allowed. We are somewhat mollified by Laird’s, and Supervisor Ryan Coonerty’s staff’s assurances to us that our concerns are understood and shared. However, there are no guarantees of additional funds and resources if Eshoo’s bill is enacted.


At the very least the monument’s backers should schedule a community meeting on the North Coast so we can get our questions answered and express our concerns.

We also think the new name Sempervirens has single-handedly chosen for Coast Dairies, Santa Cruz Redwoods, is misleading. It seems solely designed to boost its attraction and support for the monument effort. Coast Dairies is largely coastal chaparral, and its upland redwood stands make up no more than 10% of its area. It is not Old Growth, and as statuesque as the groves are, few compare to those on Wilder/Gray Whale Ranch, and certainly not to those in Big Basin. Visitors expecting that kind of experience will be sorely disappointed.

We are also put off by the urgency that the Sempervirens Fund attaches to this campaign. It insists that it must happen in 2015 because of Republicans’ efforts to strip the President’s power to unilaterally declare a property a national monument, although the Republicans have introduced such a bill in every new Congress for many years and have yet to pass it. This proposed monument has the potential to forever change the North Coast and Bonny Doon, particularly if San Vicente Redwoods is added to it, because at least one gateway to that property is likely to be on Empire Grade. A provision currently in Eshoo’s bill provides that any adjacent land that comes into federal possession will become part of it. The financial projections by the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County for the San Vicente public access plan seem to us to leave a very large annual deficit, which the conservation partners who own it will undoubtedly be very anxious to get out from under by donating the land to a public entity, almost certainly the federal government, just as TPL did with Coast Dairies.

Have we thoroughly thought out all the implications of this monument effort? Whom did Sempervirens consult before beating the drum? Not the communities of Davenport and Bonny Doon.

It seems to us far better to proceed cautiously, analyze the impacts, line up funding for crucial services, and be as certain as possible of the environmental impacts before we commit to something that could, and probably will, irrevocably change the nature of the North Coast. We say this with full knowledge that the management plan, whether Coast Dairies is designated a national monument or not, will be subject to the provisions of the National Environmental Protection Act.

Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari              

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty: Pot Farming, National Monuments, and Event Centers

The three hot button issues in Bonny Doon these days are the proliferation of cannabis cultivation, turning Coast Dairies—and also, possibly, San Vicente Redwoods—into a national monument, and new regulations for renting residential property as an event center.

These controversial issues will be addressed by our new Supervisor, Ryan Coonerty, at the March 11 RBDA meeting. The Board of Supervisors is in the process of creating new rules for pot farming; has asked the Planning Dept. to come up with a new ordinance s exactly specifying the rules for using your house and/or land for commercial events; and trying to figure out how to cope with the impacts from the expected thousands of additional visitors who will flock to Coast Dairies once it is put on the map as a national monument.

This is your best opportunity to let our new Supervisor know how you feel about these issues which are or will have such a big impact on Bonny Doon, and to get his take on them.

Cutting Pot Plantings

After a year in which pot farms seemed to be sprouting in every rural neighborhood, including, and perhaps particularly, in Bonny Doon, the Board of Supervisors is getting close to a new ordinance aimed at limiting grows to those legitimately allied to legal medical marijuana dispensaries.

Judging from word-of-mouth and the big crowd that came out for the November RBDA forum on pot growing, this issue is much on the minds of Bonny Dooners. The RBDA Board and an ad hoc organized group of Dooners submitted comments (which were much along the same lines) to the Supervisors in advance of their January meeting to consider changes in the cultivation rules.

We were happy to see that much of what we advocated was supported by the Supervisors. The proposed new rules come much to the chagrin of many pot farmers masquerading as Samaritans simply trying to ensure that suffering patients with medical marijuana cards have access to their buds and edibles.

Any level-headed analysis leads to the conclusion that by far the bulk of the crop is headed for the recreational, illegal market. County Chief Administrative Officer Susan Mauriello generously estimated that the entire number of marijuana card holders in the County could have their needs met by a single 3-acre pot farm.

We don’t have a problems with adults’ pot use, as long as they’re not driving or operating heavy machinery or other dangerous items, but we do have a problem with turning our residential neighborhoods and houses into pot farms, surrounded by high fences and patrolled by dogs or armed guards, cutting down trees, using excessive amounts of water, polluting streams, jury-rigging wiring through the forest, and running noisy generators.

If, as many predict, recreational pot use is legalized in the 2016 election, these problems will only grow worse. Thus we were pleased to see the Supervisors call for restricting commercial cannabis cultivation to parcels zoned Commercial Agricultural (CA) or Agricultural (A), with a limit of 1,000 square feet, and prohibiting all but small personal grows on Residential Agricultural (RA) and Rural Residential (RR) properties. On CA and A parcels significant setbacks will be required to lessen the impact on adjacent residences. Indoor grows would be restricted to 5,000 square feet, and limited to Commercial and Industrial zones.

Pot dispensaries would have to get all their marijuana from no more than four farmers.

 “We need to scale back in a big way the number of grows,” Supervisor Ryan Coonerty says.

Enforcement would come from Planning Dept. Code Compliance officers and Sheriff’s Deputies. The recently passed measure to tax dispensaries should cover their salaries and expenses. The Board of Supervisors will take up the subject again at their March 24 meeting. Via emails, letters or in person, let them know your thoughts.

Supervisors to Hear Castle House Wedding Permit Appeal

Neighbors astonished by the Planning Commission’s refusal to respect the clear language in the Home Occupation ordinance that should have prevented the Castle House owners, the Sabankayas, from turning their Bonny Doon Road property into an event center for weddings have appealed the decision to the Board of Supervisors, which will take it up March 17.

Meanwhile, the owner of the Castle House property, Mustafa Sabankaya, has put the unique dwelling up for sale, at an asking price of $7.5 million, with an MLS listing suggesting that it would make a terrific location for corporate retreats. If the permit for weddings is approved by the Supervisors, it would not transfer to any new owner, because it is specifically granted to Teresa Sabankaya, a florist and Mustafa’s sister-in-law.

At the Planning Commission hearing Commissioners Mike Guth and Rachel Dann, appointed by Supervisors John Leopold and Ryan Coonerty respectively, voted against the permit, saying that the clear language in the Home Occupation ordinance is aimed at allowing people who teach classes or workshops, or produce crafts, to do it at home. To let florists rent out their homes or properties for events where people decorate with flowers opens the door to any wedding professional, say a photographer or caterer, to do the same thing. By the same logic a clown would be allowed to put on a circus, or a kickboxer an Ultimate Fighting bout.

After the decision Supervisor Coonerty got the Board to direct the Planning Dept. to come up with a new ordinance specifically detailing when, how and where residences may be rented out for events. He said that it is clear that some people (which, honestly, flabbergasts us) think the language of the Home Occupation ordinance isn’t clear enough on this issue.

“We’re trying to set up a process that doesn’t specifically exist for people who want to have events,” said Planning Commissioner Rachel Dann. “We’re not trying to create more event centers.” She said that the planners may recommend that, except for some very exceptional circumstances, such centers not be permitted in Rural Residential or Residential Agricultural zones. (The Castle House is zoned Rural Residential.) That is a position that the RBDA Board strongly advocates. Rachel said that there are several event centers operating illegally which may try to piggyback on the Castle House approval, and that the new ordinance should make it clear whether they should be permitted or not.

The new ordinance will also address permits for one-time events benefiting civic organizations on private properties, like the Bonny Doon School Foundation’s Art & Wine Festival. Some people tried to stop that from occurring a couple of years ago. We are staunch supporters of fundraisers for local organizations like the school, pre-school or fire team, and hope that the proposed rules make it easier for them.

The Castle House hearing before the Board of Supervisors should take place on March 17. We encourage you to write letters opposing this permit, both to the Board of Supervisors and to local media, and attend the meeting. If the Supervisors vote for the permit, it can be appealed to the Coastal Commission. Although the planners decided to only allow 4 events a year, with strict limits on hours and guests (no more than 50), we think that it sets a bad precedent that could have serious impacts on residential neighborhoods.

New RBDA Officers

Five people, who were running unopposed, were elected to the RBDA Board at the January Annual Meeting: Tom Hearn, Marty Demare, Jeff Alford, Betsy Firebaugh and a newcomer to the Board, Andy Davidson. At its February meeting, the RBDA Board shuffled responsibilities. Ted Benhari is the new Chairman, a post he has held several times in the past, Jeff is the new Highlander Editor, and Andy is the Membership Coordinator. Tom Hearn returns to his former post as Treasurer (we thank him for the excellent job he did as Chairman in 2014), Marty remains Corresponding Secretary and Betsy Recording Secretary, while Lad Wallace is now the Vice Chairman.

In addition, the change to the Bylaws passed without opposition, allowing the membership roster to now be given to the Board officer assigned as Administrator of our Facebook group, and to the Highlander Editor.

We encourage more of our members to join the Facebook group, now up to 29 people, to get RBDA and Bonny Doon news in between the bi-monthly issues of The Highlander, and share their thoughts about important issues. Just search on Facebook for Rural Bonny Doon Association and request admission to the group, which is limited to active RBDA members.

And don’t forget that all 1-year memberships expired on Jan. 31 (except if you joined between Dec. 1, 2014, and Jan. 31, 2015) so if you haven’t renewed please send in your dues now. The more Dooners who are members the more clout we have in influencing issues and protecting our values.

Talk to Us on Facebook

The RBDA Facebook group is growing, but is still only a fraction of the total RBDA membership. The page is an opportunity for our members to let us know about important breaking events and comment on Bonny Doon issues, and for the RBDA Board to communicate to you in between bi-monthly issues of The Highlander.

Are you an RBDA Member? Join the conversation, get news updates on the Facebook page exclusively for RBDA members: RBDA, Rural Bonny Doon Association

Support the RBDA by renewing your membership now: all 1-year memberships expire on January 31st.

Ideas for RBDA Meeting Topics

We are always open to suggestions for interesting programs and speakers at our bimonthly (except July) RBDA public meetings.

What are you interested in? Local flora and fauna, gardening, environmental and political issues, Bonny Doon history or geology, public safety?

What were some of your favorite speakers or presentations at past RBDA meetings?
Were there any that you would like us to repeat?

Please email us with your ideas and comments at


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The Highlander
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