Fire Danger in Bonny Doon
Captain Mike Gagarin,
California Dep't of Forestry
Wednesday, 14 May 2003, 7:30 p.m.
Multi-Purpose Room, Bonny Doon School
|Moonrocks Surrounded by a Potential Moonscape
The potential for a major wildland fire in Bonny Doon and the Santa Cruz Mountains varies from year to year, depending on the previous winter's rainfall and storm damage, summer temperatures, humidity, etc. But one thing is certain; the brush keeps growing, increasing the fuel load in our forest every year.
We have not had major fire in Bonny Doon in over 50 years. Of particular interest to many of us is the fire hazard incorporated in the Ecological Reserve and its potential to lead to a conflagration of the surrounding areas. There is a tentative plan to reduce fuels loads and do controlled burning in the Reserve, but the final version of this plan has not been approved by Fish and Game.
Captain Mike Gagarin is the vegetation manager for the California Department of Forestry and works out of CDF's Felton headquarters. Burning in the Reserve will be a cooperative effort between DFG and CDF. He will discuss the Reserve's burn plan, as well as some of the fire history of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the potential for a catastrophic wildland fire. Questions from the audience are encouraged. This is a good opportunity to educate ourselves about how we can effectively deal with one of Bonny Doon's greatest blessings, the forest. A century of human intervention has created a need to intervene further to protect the trees. Moonscape has its place, let's keep it there.
Logging Returns to Bonny Doon
San Vicente Creek wends its way down from the headwaters reach in Bonny Doon, miraculously gurgles through the blasted tunnel at the old quarry on RMC lands, continues on down forested and grass-covered slopes past the sleepy town of Davenport where it finally splashes under Hwy 1 and runs out to sea. Along the way it provides water for the RMC quarry operations, becomes the water supply for the town of Davenport and creates habitat for a coho and steelhead run.
Now this multi-use watershed is about to be called upon to do even more. Three timber harvest plans totaling more than 1000 acres will soon be conducted along the banks of San Vicente Creek and its tributaries. All three plans intend to draft water from this small north coast stream during the summer months to water down dust on the logging roads.
RMC THP 01-439 SCR was approved last year along Jim Creek, a Class I tributary of San Vicente. Now RMC has submitted a second plan (THP 1-03-042 SCR) of 700 acres which proposes to harvest trees along both San Vicente and Reggiardo Creeks near Smith Grade. And Redtree Properties has submitted a 278 acre timber harvest plan (THP 03-042 SCR) in the headwaters of San Vicente near Empire Grade. All three plans propose drafting water from the stream. The Public Hearings and Review Team meetings are coming up for the Redtree and new RMC plans. To participate, contact CDF at: 335-6740.
Waldorf, Neighbors, RBDA, Get Beyond Their Salad Days
Your RBDA Executive Board has been following the conflict between the proposed expansion of the Waldorf School and the neighborhood interests for some time now. You've heard some of the issues at RBDA general meetings more than a year ago: noise, traffic, water and (most serious, perhaps) the setting of precedent for instant redefinition of what rural residential zoning is all about. This conflict, on which the Board stayed neutral last year, threatened to erupt into a full-blown court case, with both sides enlisting attorneys and negotiations between the sides abruptly terminating earlier this year. The Board was lobbied to take sides and render an opinion representing the RBDA position. In our Minutes, we've been reporting on the very good presentations made by both groups: in February we heard from a neighborhood group about the downside of the expansion, and in April we heard how eager Waldorf is to rectify any problems and be good citizens within the Bonny Doon environment. Since Waldorf is a valued Bonny Doon asset of which we can be proud, but Bonny Doon expansions are non grata to the RBDA, taking sides looked like one of the toughest decisions we have ever had to make at the Board level.
In a remarkable turn of events (to which we like to think we contributed a little), the neighborhood group and Waldorf decided to start talking together again, sans representation (?), and met April 29 to see if a local agreement could be reached. We hear from Chris Turzo, the principal of Waldorf, that the meeting went "great," with the parties all on the same page and with good prospects for convergence. There apparently are still details to be worked out and the proper wording to be inserted in agreements. From Hal Levin, of the neighborhood group, we hear that he left the meeting "feeling positive and optimistic for the future."
Still, while we're happy to see these folks getting together, the RBDA has the obligation to look at another point of view: is this expansion good for the global community of Bonny Doon? At those Board meetings with the two sides, we asked them and each another tough questions about the issues, and particularly the question of precedent. The EIR mitigations filed by Waldorf and strongly subscribed to by them in their scheduled expansion seem to solve most of the problems raised above, but the precedent issue remains. Past promises about no future expansion made directly to our Membership are now being ignored as the school continues to operate with more students than its permit allows while the County continues to look the other way. So the issues of trust and continuity are major ones, and the Board will certainly look for assurances in black and white that the current expansion will absolutely mark the end of revisionist policies at the School. All concerned parties may have been green and naive in our salad days, but now is the time to put the proper Waldorf dish on the table.
Expect to see the long-awaited Board position paper on this in late May.
RMC: Resource Management for Consumption
RMC's impacts our community's natural resources are getting re-evaluated, not only in connection with their quarry and cement plant operations but also in connection with new timber harvest proposals and water consumption from San Vicente Creek.
In response to the County's requirement of an EIR for its proposed expansion of Bonny Doon quarry, RMC is pursuing two strategies. They have provided funds to the County to pay for the preparation of an EIR on the expansion. Meanwhile they filed a legal brief appealing Superior Court Judge Attack's ruling that supported the County's right to require an EIR on the quarry expansion. The City of Santa Cruz has joined the County in defending the case. The City wants proper review of the permits since quarry operations are suspected of degrading the quality of water in Liddell Spring, an important source of clean water for the City.
City and County attorneys have now responded with their brief dismantling RMC's legal contrivances that supported their "vested right " to expand their quarry. RMC complains that they have already submitted copious documentation and studies but this is appropriate for an operation with such a long history of large and far-reaching impacts on air and water quality, quarry sites and the community. Under provisions of the State Surface Mining and Reclamation Act (SMARA) the County can and should hire someone to help process RMC's permits since SMARA allows these staff costs to be passed along to RMC. RMC also wants to modify its State mandated reclamation plan for the quarry because it has had limited success replacing and re-establishing native vegetation that was removed as overburden.
Meanwhile, at the other end of the conveyor belt, the cement plant in Davenport has sought to expand its production on a permanent basis. Each year the plant has received County permission to temporarily increase its production over the permitted tonnage, arguing that denial of the permit would cause employee layoffs just before Christmas, not to mention that Davenport needs the plant to consume its treated sewage effluent in its cooling towers.
Last fall RMC applied for a permanent production increase and Supervisors agreed but that decision was appealed to the Coastal Commission because the impacts of the operation had never been given a five year review by the County as required by their base coastal permit approval granted in 1990. Serious questions about dust, smokestack pollution and water consumption need to be addressed before a production increase is allowed.
In the report prepared for an anticipated hearing at the Coastal Commission, staff weighed in and agreed with appellants that there should be no permanent expansion of production before the required review was performed. The appeal was expected to be heard by the Coastal Commission at last week's meeting in Monterey but has been put off. In the meantime the County accommodated RMC by granting them yet another temporary permission to expand production thereby bypassing public hearings. The County has however, sent RMC a letter saying they must begin the long overdue review. There is clearly a need for the quarry expansion and the plant production increase to be reviewed simultaneously, consistent with the California Environmental Quality Act, yet RMC's attorney calls this argument a "red herring."
Something fishy is truly involved in another resource issue: RMC's current application to divert water from San Vicente Creek to a pond at the plant, up to 30% of which is spilled, that is, not put to "beneficial use" so the State Water Resources Control Board is requiring RMC to make application for their water appropriation. This should lead to an examination of all the water they divert from the stream, with the aim of determining just how much they are entitled to take under the pre-1914 water rights they claim.
Underlying the water consumption considerations are the findings of researchers monitoring the fish migration near the bottom of San Vicente Creek. Environmental consultants for the Trust for Public Land have been trapping, counting and measuring fish during this migration season in response to the NMFS discovery of fish in a poorly screened ag diversion pond. A substantial number of fish are being found there, emphasizing the need to protect their habitat from further degradation, especially in view of RMC's recent proposal to harvest more timber on their property along San Vicente Creek, a plan that includes water withdrawals from the creek.
RMC's employment of local residents and its contribution to the County tax coffers are significant but as they expand their consumption of local resources (and expand their profits) we hope they will turn more of those profits to fund better environmental stewardship on their property and also increase their contributions to local schools which are needing help more than ever.
Deliver Comments Directly to Postal Execs
Three representatives of the United States Postal Service, plus a member
of Congresswoman Anna Eshoo’s staff, are coming to Bonny Doon to discuss
our concerns about postal service on this mountain. This special "town
hall" meeting will be held on Saturday, May 17, at 11:00 a.m. in
In a recent conversation Don Cattivera reported that Bonny Doon's contract
routes were moved, on May 6, from the Scotts Valley Post Office to the
main branch in Santa Cruz. They are being closely super-vised, says Mr.
Cattivera, and he believes we will see improvement in our delivery service.
Pipeline Plans Alarm Property Owners
Water withdrawals from Majors and Laguna Creeks and Liddell Spring have a long his-tory in Bonny Doon so the diversion dams and pipelines that transport the water into the Santa Cruz water treatment plant are also old, and leaky and failing, and needing a $40 mil-lion replacement.
A year ago City Water Department Director Bill Kocher came up to the RBDA general meeting to apologize for trespassing by surveyors sent to identify routes for a replacement pipeline. Improved communications were promised, but nothing heard until last month when Kocher requested a meeting with affected property owners and other interested parties like the RBDA and Friends of the North Coast to present some of the options being considered.
The least disruptive method of rehabilitating the pipelines has already been ruled out. It is called sliplining but it is not considered suitable for pipes as old and deteriorated as these. Operating pressures are too high and the process requires an opening at each of the many turns in the line. Installing new pipe, precariously placed in or near stream beds and along canyon walls, would be a difficult job, damaging to the stream beds and to the riparian cor-ridor since trees have grown up along the pipelines in the decades since the lines were laid, making it difficult to replace the pipes in their present alignment.
A more technically attractive alternative involves pumping water from the diversion dams up out of Majors and Laguna canyons and then burying new pipe along existing roads that run down the ridge top meadows to join the pipeline that follows Coast Hwy. 1 into town. That idea is not well liked by property owners who live in the vicinity and are already wary of the City's plans after the aborted brackish well proposal that threatened to dewater their wells five years ago and followed up with the more recent trespass. Another proposed route would require a new crossing over sensitive habitat on State Park property.
Another factor with unknown implications was inserted into the planning process when representatives of the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) visited the Laguna Creek Diversion dam last fall, where the City takes the entire flow of the Creek for many months of the year. They determined that the City's diversion was reducing and impairing rearing and spawning habitat for steelhead trout. NMFS wrote the City Water Dept. asking them to begin studies on stream flow and habitat restoration or face fines for violations of the Endangered Species Act. Despite the fact that steelhead were listed as an endangered species more than five years ago, Kocher wrote to complain of NMFS’ "heavy handed " enforcement efforts.
The City wants to wait to undertake such studies of its water supply diversions as part of its city-wide Habitat Conservation Plan. That process will be years long. Meanwhile the City Water Dept. has placed a flow gauge in the creek above the dam and negotiations with NMFS are currently under way to determine an interim plan for the creek
MONSTER HOME HAS FIRST HEARING
A home of nearly 7000 sq. ft. is proposed for a salty site in front
of Sand Hill Bluff, which overlooks Laguna Beach. The siting of the house
violates several General Plan and Local Coastal Plan policies and regulations
that apply to buildings on agricultural land in the Coastal Zone. The hearing
will be on May 16th before the County Zoning Administrator and Planning
Dept. staff has recommended denial of the permit. Citizens
concerned with preserving ag land and the coastal viewshed can attend and
voice their support of the staff recommendation. The hearing begins
at 8:30 a.m. at the Board of Supervisors chambers on the fifth floor of
the County Building.
COAST DAIRIES PROPERTY TRANSFER APPROACHING
Trust for Public Land officials are looking over proposed deed restrictions that would accompany the transfer of title to the state Department of Parks and Recreation and the federal Bureau of Land Management. The deed restrictions seek to prevent certain activities such as logging and mining that could be proposed in the future and are an attempt to carry out the intentions of the conservation oriented groups that facilitated the acquisition of the property. The interim management plan for the property is scheduled to be presented this month.
BUSH BENDING THE RULES
Senator Barbara Boxer has been holding hearings this week about a proposal by the Bush Administration that would exempt the Department of Defense and its contractors (such as Lockheed Martin which has a facility in Bonny Doon) from rules designed to protect the environment
WATER AND PROPERTY RIGHTS, TAKE 2: COUNTY ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH DEPT. ADOPTS NEW WELL POLICY
Property owners who seek to develop raw land generally start by drilling a well to see if they have a reliable source of water before undertaking the expensive and arduous task of obtaining building permits.
Recently however, John Ricker of County Environmental Health Services instituted a new policy that requires permit applicants to obtain a septic permit before a well permit is issued. This forces a property owner to make a much greater investment in the planning process before he even knows if he has water. Ricker says the policy is intended to identify siting constraints and keep wells from being drilled and left unutilized since County Code requires an unused well to be declared abandoned and destroyed if not used for a year.
Property rights advocates however, believe the new policy is another unnecessary infringement on their right to use their land and that the intent of the well abandonment rules would be better served if the County's time were spent locating and destroying abandoned wells already in existence instead of further complicating the building process, especially with a policy that hasn't been heard and approved by the Board of Supervisors.
Unlike other nearby counties, Santa Cruz never had a proactive well
destruction program in the past and inspection and supervision of well
drilling was lax. Many wells drilled in the County in earlier times do
not have the concrete sanitary seal that is now required on new wells.
This fact, as well as the deterioration of old steel well casings make
abandoned well shafts vulnerable conduits for contamination to be transported
down into the aquifer.
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