|Meditation Retreat Center Proposed
The Northern California chapter of the Transcendental Meditation Program (TMP), based in Palo Alto, has recently expressed interest in creating a Retreat Center here. Aware of the potential impact on our community, the leaders of the TMP contacted the RBDA Executive Board very early in their process. They wanted to be reasonably sure before going forward in their plans that their proposed Retreat Center, which involves a fairly large construction project, would be accepted (perhaps even welcomed) by the RBDA and Bonny Doon community.
After an initial meeting and visit to the potential site with the RBDA Chair Don Coyne, TMP representatives met with the full RBDA Board in April to discuss their plans and hear our concerns. We had an excellent exchange regarding land use, traffic, water and greenbelts. Following this exchange, a frank closed-session discussion among Board members revealed that we were in unanimity concerning this project. It was agreed that with proper attention to the environmental factors, this new center had the potential to actually protect a large tract of Bonny Doon from overdevelopment and excessive forest removal. The TMP representatives expressed an awareness of local issues, general RBDA positions on development and environmentalism, and the openness, philosophical alignment, and available resources necessary to address these factors.
Both the Board and TMP representatives felt that the next step should be an open forum for all community members to hear TMP plans. We have scheduled this as the May General Meeting program. John Black, Director of the TMP for Northern California and Dick Spencer, a longtime Santa Cruz area resident and former member of the County Planning Commission, will present detailed plans with site maps and mitigation procedures, then address questions, concerns and suggestions.
Rarely have purveyors of major projects up here shown so much early concern for the community they affect; we are certainly starting off on the right foot with this group. Please come to the meeting and express your opinions when they still have a chance to influence the outcome.
County Proposed Fire Code Changes Come with Their Own Firestorm
The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors is considering amending the County Urban-Wildland Intermix Code (UWIC) in an effort "to enhance fire and life safety in urban-wildland intermix areas" of the county, such as Bonny Doon. These changes will affect new residential development and significant remodels. Some opposition to the proposed changes has resulted because of perceived limitations on private property use, stemming from the unrelated and independent Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP). The scheduled April 20 public hearing during the County Board of Supervisors meeting was postponed due to the inability of some of the county’s independent fire districts to finalize their plans by that deadline, and has been rescheduled for May 4.
The UWIC is specific, yet somewhat flexible in its requirements. All new development would have to comply with the code, and all remodels where "more than 75% of the exterior walls are replaced, rebuilt, or altered in any way, with the exception of replacement wall coverings."
The new requirements for access, water supply, defensible space, and ignition resistance are defined as follows: Access, both ingress and egress, for fire apparatus is already established by the current code. If access requirements can’t be met, the Fire Chief (in Bonny Doon, a California Department of Forestry (CDF) representative) may require a higher level of ignition-resistant construction to be used. Access requirements may be increased "as a substitute for reducing the water supply…"
Water supply shall be capable of a flow rate of 500 gallons per minute for 20 minutes (10,000 gallons), using the fire engine’s pump. Currently, a minimum of 4,000 gallons storage is required in new construction. The Fire Chief may reduce the flow and storage capacities "by substituting approved enhanced access, defensible space, and/or ignition-resistant material requirements."
Defensible space is also already established in the current fire code. Generally, a minimum 30 foot clearance of brush and flammable materials around structures is required, as well as removal of overhanging vegetative materials. This doesn’t mean that the area around your house need be a moonscape, but vegetation should be sparse and well maintained. "The Fire Chief may increase the defensible space and vegetation management requirements as a substitute for reducing the water supply..."
Ignition-Resistant Construction (Class 1, 2, and 3) involves both the materials used, as well as to what degree building components such as decks, eaves, and overhangs are enclosed. Enclosure is important because it keeps fire from entering a structure from beneath. Class 1 is the most stringent level, and requires ignition-resistant siding and a non-flammable roofing material, such as tile or metal. Class 1 Ignition-Resistant Construction may be required as a substitute for "non-conforming water supply, access, or defensible space."
There isn’t much opposition to the proposed code changes themselves. The controversy surrounds the currently ongoing Habitat Conservation Plan (HCP) for reduction of fire fuels, in which CDF is involved. That plan has specific concerns with endangered species management. In an April 14, 2004 letter to the Board of Supervisors, Michael Dever, County Emergency Services Administrator states, "…although both (plans) deal with fire safety, these two projects are not linked." Mr. Dever further states "...that the Urban-Wildland Intermix Code is independent from the ongoing work to develop a Habitat Conservation Plan..." Denise Holbert, Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt’s assistant, concurs.
If this issue is of concern to you, please attend the next Supervisors’ meeting on May 4, 2004.
West Side Big Boxes?
The proposed 150,000 sq. foot Home Depot big box store installation on Delaware Avenue is mostly considered in the context of its impacts on Santa Cruz, but there are implications for our area as well.
Such developments would likely have a large impact on access routes from Bonny Doon to Santa Cruz, to emergency services and to Highways 1 South and 17 North. West Side Santa Cruz, our major throughway to almost anywhere, is already becoming a traffic bottleneck and the addition of large outlet stores could make this problem much worse. According to Laurel Chesky’s article in the April 15th Good Times, an environmental study conducted for the Watsonville Home Depot estimated 5,000 new car trips per day for that Watsonville location. In addition, the constant nature of the traffic patterns associated with these stores contrasts sharply with that of the previous industries, where the traffic was typically concentrated during commute hours. Employees of such stores would still fill the commute hours, but the traffic from the shoppers would not let up during the work day.
In addition to traffic, there are other concerns:
- Locating big-box stores on the periphery of the greenbelt could contribute to development pressures within the Rural Bonny Doon and North Coast areas.Santa Cruz City Mayor Scott Kennedy apparently is not concerned with these issues. Regarding traffic jams resulting from the projected increase in car trips to West Side Santa Cruz, he was quoted in Chesky’s article as saying "bring a book." He doesn’t seem to have a problem with the inevitable impacts of increased air pollution, traffic noise and congestion that would come with building a Home Depot in that location. Neither, apparently, does most of the City Council.
Meanwhile, an initiative is being proposed by Santa Cruzans for Responsible
Planning (SCRaP) to impose a one-year moratorium on approval of such large-scale
development, while the City and its residents review an outdated general
plan for commercial building in the West Side industrial zones. To get
involved, attend City Council meetings, contact SCRaP or swing by the Garden
Company at 2218 Mission St. and sign a petition to oppose a Home Depot
installation. To find out how other communities have successfully fought
local big box development, visit www.homedepotsucks.com/hometown.html
There has been a lot of concern expressed recently about both noise and strong explosion shockwaves coming from the quarries. From sources along Bonnywood Way we hear that the noise level from the Felton Quarry has intensified relative to prior years. The locals there alerted the County, which sent a crew out with a sound monitor. Unfortunately it was in place only 24 hours, during which time the sounds were down to an acceptable level and a visit to the quarry revealed they were conveying only dirt instead of rocks. The neighbors have continued to ask for more information, and a hearing is to be held sometime this summer.
Even more disturbing were the explosive booms and strong shockwaves experienced by many residents of the areas neighboring the RMC quarry in late March and early April. They seemed of an intensity rarely, if ever, felt in nearby and far-away neighborhoods, and elicited many email exchanges and discussions. Following up on calls received by the RBDA from folks closer to the quarry, we talked to Rob Walker of RMC, who is responsible for monitoring the effects from the RMC blasts. He said that his seismometer down on Liddell Creek showed no anomalies during those times; there were explosions at the quarry but they were well within tolerance and not at all unusual. The one on April 8 was even farther away than many others have been from the family who felt it most acutely, he reported.
After conferring with others at RMC, Rob contacted us to say RMC would be happy to help us attempt to monitor the blast levels by making their Liddell seismometer available for temporary installation at home sites. It’s possible that the seismic waves can bounce around and focus on particular places, just the way the ‘89 earthquake had focal points on Myrtle street and elsewhere in the Bay area. This doesn’t account for the increased blast noise many of us heard, but could provide additional information.
Contact Rob directly at 458-5711 during working hours if you would like to attempt to monitor blast levels on your property. Rob tells us that RMC can’t always predict well ahead of time when blasting will occur, so their interaction with interested people may be on very short notice.
Finally, a footnote: We find it useful to check the USGS website at quake.wr.usgs.gov/ for the latest shocks. They analyze the location and depth and even tell you if they think it was a quarry blast. We did that for the past week and found there was a Richter 0.9 shock on Thursday, April 22, 11:57 a.m. USGS placed it 0.7 mile due south of the Smith Grade quarry, with an uncertainty of more than a mile in the location. The shock was measured at a depth of at least 3 miles. Should we be reassured by that or worried about it? Rob confirms there was RMC blasting at that time. His assessment is that it’s highly unlikely that this was an earthquake triggered by quarry work; most likely USGS got the depth wrong and this report reflects the RMC blasting itself.
COAST DAIRIES UPDATE: Land Transfer Must Meet Local Regulations
Until recently, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) had intended to turn over the 7,000 acre Coast Dairies Property to California State Parks, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Agri-Culture by late spring. However, on March 25, 2004, Santa Cruz County Cousel notified the Trust for Public Land in writing that the transfer would require compliance with the Subdivision Map Act as well as require a Coastal Development Permit.
Subsequently, representatives of the County and the California Coastal Commission met with representatives of the Trust for Public Land to discuss the necessity of meeting these requirements prior to conveying the Coast Dairies property. Compliance may take many months once applications for the permits have been submitted to the County.
State Parks is slated to acquire the lands west of Highway 1 including the coastal beaches. The bulk of the lands east of the highway are to go to the BLM, with the remaining agricultural lands to be owned by Agri-Culture, the educational branch of the Farm Bureau. TPL is now considering their options and the land transfer has been postponed.
APAC Rejects Sand Hill Bluff House
A few acres of bluff top row crops overlooking the waves above Laguna Beach are holding back the tide of development. At Sand Hill Bluff, a large compound including a 7000 sq. ft. home and outbuildings was proposed on row crop land. For several years, the site had been used for an abalone farm that failed and was demolished. Spilled seawater from the aquaculture operation left behind salt spoiled land and the County did not require them to restore its agricultural viability. The applicants tried to take advantage of that fact by saying that since the land had been spoiled, it was the best site to build a house, thus creating a precedent that said that if you ruin some ag land for farming you can go ahead and develop it.
The proposal to build a huge luxury estate at Sand Hill Bluff is clearly against several County rules meant to control sprawl and protect agricultural land from conversion to other uses. After their permit application was denied by the Zoning Administrator a year ago, the applicants (Sand Hill Bluff LLC, who is Brian Sweeney and David Mills; Sweeney the same man who purchased the option on Coast Dairies land and wanted to parcel it out and sell as luxury home sites) decided to appeal the decision to the Planning Commission. In hopes of getting some justification for building a house on the site, the applicants asked for a hearing before the County’s Agricultural Policy Advisory Commission (APAC), which is charged with advising the Planning Commission about issues pertaining to development on agricultural land.
The Commission deliberated for two sessions and served the county’s voters well by giving careful consideration to the issues involved before voting to affirm the Zoning Administrator’s denial. In doing so they recognized the precedent that would be set by approving this project: the first new home proposed for North Coast ag land on the ocean side of Highway One, on a site away from the existing farmstead and neighborhood, which, if allowed, would have undermined the requirements for clustering of development on ag land which are written into County Code to prevent sprawl. Moreover, approval of a premier ocean front estate on the property would inflate its value far beyond its worth as row crop land, an important point while the property is being considered for purchase by the Trust for Public Land for conveyance to State Parks.
Sand Hill Bluff is a unique and sensitive site that would be best restored
to its natural vegetation. The property deserves the protection Parks provides
Wilder Beach, not left to the whim of a private owner who might prefer
fences and dune buggies. Following the negative recommendation from the
APAC, the appeal hearing before the Planning Commission was postponed until
Oct. 27, and everyone concerned with preserving the coast should attend
and support the denial of this project.
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