March/April 2016 issue

Logging the Santa Cruz Mountains:
Then and Now

Bob Berlage, Big Creek Lumber

Wednesday, March 9, 2016, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room,
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade

Logging Then and Now

Early in the 20th century, there were great ocean vistas from almost every hill and ridge in Bonny Doon. The reason: much of the area was clearcut of the redwoods, oaks and madrones that once covered its hills and valleys.

Starting early in the 1840s, and accelerated by the rapid growth of San Francisco as the Gold Rush unfolded, redwoods were cut and milled for buildings and other uses. The rapidly expanding cement industry was a death knell for oaks and madrones used to fire the lime kilns, and the leather industry consumed increasing numbers of tan oaks.

The history of logging and the transition to single-tree selection harvesting in the Santa Cruz Mountains will be told and shown at the March 9 RBDA meeting by Bob Berlage, who is the Communications Director for Big Creek Lumber and has been with the company 33 years.

Bob worked for 21 years as a lumberjack in several western states, which gave him a broad perspective on forest practices. His presentation, a look back at Bonny Doon history and today’s timber industry, will be fascinating for young and old alike.

Developers Undermine Coastal Commission

Development interests, frustrated by the even-handed leadership of California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester in trying to protect our coast and keep it accessible to all of us, have gotten him fired.

Despite support from dozens of environmental groups and hundreds of people at the commission hearing on Feb. 10, the commissioners voted 7 to 5 to oust Dr. Lester. Using the excuse of it being a “personnel issue,” the commissioners voted behind closed doors to get rid of Dr. Lester, who has headed the agency for 4 years. Sadly and tellingly, all 4 of Gov. Brown’s appointees voted to fire Dr. Lester.

Talking about his firing in an LA Times interview, Dr. Lester said it has "touched a nerve about this program that I don't think is fully appreciated yet. It may be that we are at a watershed moment. Unless the political system in California recommits to the spirit and intent of the Coastal Act, it may be a fundamental shift in direction. This is a powerful land use agency, there's a lot at stake and there are vested interests that want things done." He said the agency staff has to remain independent and free from politics to be impartial.

Calling the firing “inexcusable,” Assemblyman Mark Stone wrote that, “Given the depth of the failure of the Commission to address its own concerns, and given that this failure clearly results from the inappropriate influence of lobbyists through activities that constitute a violation of public disclosure laws in virtually all other California governing boards…I will introduce legislation to close this loophole.”

Cannabis Committee Update

Eric Hoffman of Bonny Doon, the 3rd District representative on the Supervisors’ Cannabis Choices Cultivation Committee (C4), filed this report.

The creation of the C4 was a result of failed Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors’ policy that began in 2013 with opening up most of the county to commercial cannabis growing, followed by stopping all growing due to the proliferation of wildcat grows. This was followed by a petition drive by commercial cannabis growers that threatened to remove regulatory authority from the Supervisors and allow the growers to write their own regulation for their industry.

In response, the Supervisors chose 13 people to create policy recommendations for the commercial cultivation of cannabis that 1) ensure patient access to medical marijuana 2) protect rural neighborhoods and 3) protect the environment. Approximately half of the committee members represent cannabis interests. I am the only appointee not involved in the cannabis business who lives rurally, where cannabis policies will have the most impact on neighborhoods and the environment. Unfortunately, other neighborhood groups did not get representation on C4. (Note 3rd District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty was not on the Board when the 2013 ordinance was passed.)

In December, after 5 months of 6-hour weekly meetings, lengthy reading assignments, and many field trips, C4 delivered its work to the Board of Supervisors, resulting in a new interim ordinance (7.128), which can be seen on C4’s website, Much of the ordinance content came from C4 recommendations, but the Supervisors made the final decisions.

Medical marijuana is not in short supply and the committee is working to ensure that low-income patients’ needs are met. Neither environment nor neighborhoods have received the full attention of the committee, but should once subcommittee work is completed by mid-March. Priority has been given to fulfilling the requirements the 3 new State laws on cannabis (SB643, AB266 & AB243) which have been combined into the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. The C4’s assignment is to address licensing, create an ordinance acceptable to state requirements, and other matters. Ensuring public safety is emphasized in the State law.

Ongoing Discussions
Subcommittees have been formed to gather information on essential topics in the cannabis discussion and make recommendations to the entire C4. Currently groups are looking at issues regarding indoor grows, the usage of agricultural land, registration and compliance, and impacts on rural neighborhoods.
Protecting Neighborhoods
In 2014 our previous supervisor, Neal Coonerty, procured a unanimous vote of the Supervisors to exclude RA parcels of 5 acres or less from commercial grows. This exclusion was seen as a way to protect rural neighborhoods. It has been questioned by members of C4, and growers in the San Lorenzo Valley. I support the original rule that prohibits commercial growing on RA parcels that are smaller than 5 acres, but allows one medicinal grow (not commercial), measuring 10’ x 10’ per parcel. C4 is working to define rural neighborhoods. The following motion was adopted by a majority of the C4 committee on Jan. 21 “Our initial policy proposals for mountain grows will focus on licensing of existing grows with no new or expanded rural grows for 2 years. New rural grows will be addressed in 2 years, after the existing grows are operating under the new system.” This action will allow the committee to focus on setting up a registration, licensing, and enforcement program without immediately addressing thorny issues such as expanding grows into neighborhoods, sensitive environments and threatened species. 

As many in Bonny Doon know, when a cannabis plant flowers it puts off an odor that many find skunk-like and obnoxious. To date, assessing odor has been a subjective call, which makes enforcement difficult. To address this issue we are studying Colorado’s use of Olfactometers to measure odor intensity, concentration, and duration.

Fire Protection
Joe Christy & Eric Isacson, members of the Fire Safe Councils in Bonny Doon and Las Cumbres respectively, are part of a recently formed ad hoc working group that will be recommending fire safety requirements, including inspections for licensing. They hope to have a finished recommendation by March.

Protecting the Environment
C4 members understand that cannabis growing in the mountains can have great impact on the environment, because of tree clearing, grading on slopes near streams, and heavy use of water, fertilizer, pesticides and rodenticides.  Last year County staff reported 145 known cannabis cultivation sites, and a statement that “Not one of the sites inspected by Code Compliance staff has been in compliance with environmental regulations.” 

The model enacted by the Supervisors in 2013 of allowing grows over wide swaths of the County is contrary to good wildlife habitat management principles in mountain areas, especially considering recent research from UC Davis on the wide use of poisons by cannabis growers. Regulations and licensing need to be formulated to address these critical issues. Penalties and steadfast enforcement are essential for success.

Kudos to Bonny Doon
No community has been more active than Bonny Doon in making its position on cannabis policies clear to C4 and the Board of Supervisors. However, it is my strong belief that despite the efforts of the RBDA and Bonny Dooners, who have organized impressive signature drives, many people living along the North Coast are not aware of the potentially pervasive impact of this issue. In general, Bonny Doon is pro medical marijuana but very hesitant to embrace commercial production, especially in neighborhoods. The reasoning put forth by the RBDA and many others to limit commercial cannabis to A (Agriculture) and CA (Commercial Agriculture) is sound and responsible. The impact of legalizing recreational grows, which will be on the State ballot this year, offers another reason to limit growing to CA and A zones.

C4 meetings are open to the public. Meeting schedules and content is available at  You can contact me directly at I urge you to attend and participate. The Supervisors’ decisions about cannabis cultivation will impact our community for decades to come. The time to act is now.

RBDA Board Position on Pot Farming

The RBDA Board is grateful for the hard work Eric Hoffman has invested in the cannabis committee. The RBDA Board has also made specific and detailed recommendations for commercial cannabis cultivation, and these are posted on the County web site at: .

After we made these recommendations the Board of Supervisors adopted the current regulations for commercial cannabis. Like the previous regulations, the new ones provide stronger protection to District 2 (Aptos, Corralitos, etc.), where pot can only be grown indoors on parcels larger than 5 acres. In contrast, commercial cannabis in Bonny Doon can be grown indoors on smaller parcels, and outdoors on parcels larger than 5 acres. We asked Supervisor Ryan Coonerty why our neighborhoods and environment have less protection than District 2. He replied:

“Since being elected to the Board, I have been working hard with County staff, and community partners such as the RBDA, to create sensible solutions to the problems created by unregulated cannabis cultivation. I am working towards a Countywide solution that protects the environment and neighborhoods. Protecting the environment and neighborhood integrity in Bonny Doon has been central in how I have approached rural cannabis cultivation. In general, I do not favor crafting policy that carves out one region at the expense of another, nor do I believe it is good policy to have one set of regulations in one part of the County, and another set of regulations in another areas. What I am working towards is a realistic, Countywide solution to a Countywide problem.”

We are working to ensure that the next generation of regulations (now being developed) gives Bonny Doon at least the same protection as presently given to District 2. If not we will ask Supervisor Coonerty to carry through with his goal of uniform Countywide regulations, and not vote again for regulations that give weaker protection to Bonny Doon than to District 2.

Judge Throws Out Castle House Permit

The Planning Dept., the Zoning Administrator, 3 out of 5 Planning Commissioners, and 4 out of 5 County Supervisors apparently didn’t believe that the words in the Home Occupation Ordinance (HOO) actually meant what it said.

At every hearing on an application by the Sabankayas to use their dwelling at 4286 Bonny Doon Road, which they call the Castle House, for commercial events, the RBDA Board and neighbors protested that the words in the HOO mean exactly what they say and should not be interpreted to allow commercial events at a home in a residential zone. It finally took a ruling on Feb. 4 from Superior Court Judge Paul Burdick to void the approved permit based on the “plain English” language in the ordinance.

The issue was in court because of a suit (the RBDA was not a party to it) brought by the neighbors’ Attorney Bill Parkin of the law firm Wittwer/Parkin. In his brief, he argued, and Judge Burdick agreed, that the County had also erred in not requiring an Environmental Impact Report, in conformity with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The Sabankayas’ lawyer, Miles Dolinger, argued that since the events permit is discretionary, the planners had the right to approve it. Judge Burdick rejected that argument on the grounds that it allowed planners too much leeway in deciding how to interpret an ordinance’s language.

The judge said the ordinance clearly requires all the noise from home occupations to be contained on the property, and that all activity be indoors. The Sabankayas also contended that the wedding staff—gardeners, photographer, officiant, caterer, waiters, musicians, cleanup crew, etc.—are all independent contractors. However, the HOO requires that the home occupation be carried out by the resident him- or herself, plus no more than 5 employees.

As a result of the court decision the Sabankayas are responsible for the attorneys’ fees for all sides. Unless they appeal a hearing to decide the amount of fees is set for March 7.

The County is in the process of adopting a new Home Occupation Ordinance that specifically disallows its use to justify commercial events in residential zones. Until the new ordinance goes into effect, no new applications under the present HOO are allowed. Another planned ordinance will prohibit event centers on residential properties on less than 8 acres and in the Coastal Zone, which applies to a sizable part of Bonny Doon. All residents, of course, are allowed to have private events in their homes.

Preserved Coastlands Need More Rangers

At the Rio Theater on Feb. 6 world-famous nature photographer Frans Lanting and his wife and collaborator, Christine Eckstrom, who are longtime Bonny Doon residents, presented a show on the natural wonders of the Monterey Bay area, and made the case that there are only 20 rangers to deal with the over 8 million visitors to the area’s many preserved properties. This is highly insufficient and has contributed to the lack of stewardship all these properties suffer from. They noted that the opening of Coast Dairies will only exacerbate that situation, especially if it becomes a national monument.

The RBDA and the Friends of the North Coast continue to work to try to delay the national monument designation until more resources are made available, and trying to get Rep. Anna Eshoo to create an inter-agency task force of government and private stakeholders to brainstorm and implement measures to best protect these world-class natural treasures.

We’ve also been trying to get Sempervirens Fund, which spearheads the drive for monument status for Coast Dairies, to press for the conditions on which the Board of Supervisors and the Santa Cruz City Council predicated their support for monument designation. We also met with Supervisor Ryan Coonerty to ask him to try to get the conditions included in the Eshoo/Sen. Barbara Boxer bills currently bottled up in committee, and in any Presidential Proclamation making Coast Dairies a national monument. Coonerty told us that he feels the conditions are included “in spirit,” but we think that it is all too easy to skirt rules that aren’t explicitly stated.

To follow and comment on this issue, please go to, join the Facebook group Friends of the North Coast, or email

Making Felton Empire Road Safer

At the Jan. 13 RBDA Annual Meeting, Supervisor Ryan Coonerty’s aide Rachel Dann shared the Supervisor's plans to take effective action to increase safety on Felton Empire Road.

That included requesting that the Dept. of Public Works bring forward a proposal at the March Board of Supervisors meeting to ban big trucks on Felton Empire
Road and on  some other curvy roads in the County. Also, the Supervisors have asked to get Felton Empire Road on the list for Federal funding for fixing the guard rails.

Coonerty told us that the Supervisors have heard complaints regarding
Felton Empire Road for some time, but that the issue has become significantly worse due to mobile apps, such as Google Maps, Waze and MapQuest, providing truck drivers with directions through these back roads. The Supervisors hope that by banning large trucks on Felton Empire they can influence these app providers to provide more appropriate routes. Large trucks are already banned on several County roads, including Route 152 (see Santa Cruz County Code 9.50.010).

“We are aware of several accidents and tragedies on Felton Empire
Road, and are trying to respond as quickly as possible to make this road safer,” Supervisor Coonerty told us.

To help support this effort the RBDA board has connected to some of the mapping app vendors to explore ways that they can help notify truck drivers of the limited maneuverability and risks of
Felton Empire Road.
Our Beautiful and Wild Ocean Can Be Dangerous

The ocean waves have been spectacular the past few weeks. You can hear their roar through much of Bonny Doon. Especially in view of the sad deaths of 2 UCSC students at Bonny Doon Beach, we have to remind ourselves, our children and our visiting guests of the potential danger from rogue or sneaker waves, rip tides, sharp rocks and changing currents.

A few rules to live by:

• Watch for warning flags (and learn what they mean).
• Pay close attention to weather bulletins (storm watches/warnings, high surf advisories, etc.).
• Don’t turn your back to the ocean; particularly don’t do “ocean selfies.”
• Don’t text while walking near the ocean or along a cliff.
• If the rocks are wet, assume that they got wet by wave action, and
    don’t walk there—another wave will be coming along.

• Don’t go alone—bring a buddy.
• Be prepared with jackets, working phone, water and food.
• If you see someone who appears unaware of the dangers, warn them.

In Bonny Doon we respect and enjoy our amazing ocean. Thanks to Britten Miles, Marine Safety Captain of the Santa Cruz Fire Department, for the guidance and advice.

RBDA Board Officers for 2016

At the RBDA Annual Meeting on Jan. 13 Dave Rubin, Betsy Firebaugh and Clay Peters were elected to 2-year terms, and the addition to the Bylaws required by the RBDA’s new corporate status was approved.

Immediately after the meeting the new Board selected Andy Davidson as Chairman, replacing Ted Benhari, who didn’t run for re-election. The other officers remain the same (see list here).  Andy is continuing as the Membership Coordinator until the board can appoint a new member who might assume this responsibility.

If you are interested in serving Bonny Doon by joining the RBDA Board, please contact us at

  photo by Robin Petrie
Davenport, January 2, 2016, awaiting the rains

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

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Some people may not understand that receiving The Highlander in the mail doesn’t mean you are a current RBDA member. To reach the whole community we mail The Highlander to all mailboxes in Bonny Doon.

So unless you joined for multiple years, all 1-year RBDA memberships will expire on Jan. 31, 2016. To continue to support the RBDA, we need you to renew now for the 2016 year. Details are here.

Dues and donations go mainly to printing and mailing The Highlander, and rent and insurance for the public meetings at the school.

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?

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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
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 
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The Bonny Doon Planning District
Bonny Doon Planning
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Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari 

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