July/August 2015 issue
Special meeting on the National Monument
Tuesday June 30th at the school
As usual, no regular meeting in July
The next RBDA meeting will be on
Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room,
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade
Coast Dairies National Monument—A Good Idea?
Dooners will finally have a chance to hear directly from, and ask questions of, proponents of designating the 5,800- acre Bureau of Land Management’s Coast Dairies property a National Monument.
On Tuesday, June 30 the RBDA will host a meeting to examine the pros and cons, the potential benefits and the negative impacts of the proposal, which is now being pushed through the House of Representatives by our Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo. A similar bill is expected to be introduced into the Senate later this summer by Barbara Boxer.
Guest panelists will be Dan Haifley, chair of the citizens’ monument campaign committee; Shelley Ratay, Sempervirens Fund executive director; Rick Cooper, Bureau of Land Management Hollister Field Office Director; Val Lopez, Amah Mutsun Tribal Band chairman; Supervisor Ryan Coonerty; Sheriff Jim Hart; County Fire Chief Scotty Jalbert; Ecologist Grey Hayes; and renowned Wildlife Photographer Frans Lanting.
As we have said here in the Highlander, in the Battle Mountain News, in several media interviews, at public meetings and on a new website we have created, FriendsOfTheNorthCoast.org, national monument status for Coast Dairies will likely have major impacts on Bonny Doon, Davenport, Swanton, the North Coast beaches, Mission Street, Highway 1 between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, and on the ability of local First Responders to handle emergencies and enforce laws. And, of course, on the environmentally precious animals, plants and ancient soils at Coast Dairies, which Save the Redwoods League and their donors were intent on preserving when they acquired the property (with the help of public monies) and saved it from development in 1998.
At issue is how many additional visitors monument status may attract. BLM, according to the Land Trust of Santa Cruz, is projecting 150,000 visitors annually when all the proposed trails, parking lots and other facilities are built, but perhaps twice that if Coast Dairies is a national monument. Most of those 300,000 visitors, of course, will come on sunny weekends.
The backers of the monument campaign argue that the expected increase in visitation will be gradual and manageable, and that monument status will provide more money, from both public and private sources, for stewardship and facilities. But they can’t guarantee that.
Along with the Davenport/North Coast Association, we pushed for changes in Rep. Eshoo’s bill aimed at lessening the impact of increased visitation. The Board of Supervisors supported the changes and Rep. Eshoo’s staff has indicated she will incorporate them. The most important ones ensure that the deed restrictions on uses and the Coastal Development Permit be adhered to; that “stewardship, access, traffic and safety concerns are comprehensively addressed prior to intensive public use;” that “watersheds and natural resources are sustainably managed;” “local fire and rescue services are not overburdened;” “potential traffic hazards and impacts to adjacent private properties are intentionally addressed;” and that there be “full, public participation in the management plan.”
Also, the Supervisors asked that the name proposed by the monument campaign, Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument, be changed to Coast Dairies, unless a public process with public input favors another name. Both the DNCA and the RBDA have recommended Coast Dairies-Cotoni National Monument. The Cotoni (the ‘C’ is pronounced ‘Ch’) are the Ohlone band who lived on Coast Dairies. That name, or a variation, Cotoni-Coast Dairies, along with the above conditions, has been accepted by the monument campaign.
This will, in all likelihood, be the only public meeting in Bonny Doon regarding the pros and cons of monument designation, so if you want to learn the facts, express your concerns and get your questions answered, don’t miss this opportunity.
First Coast Dairies’ Trail to Open
In early June BLM published a plan to open a 2-mile loop trail for hikers (and their leashed dogs) only at the southwestern corner of Coast Dairies, with parking at the “Laguna Banks” parking lot on Highway 1.
The site of the trail is considered an “Area of Critical Environmental Concern” and an Environmental Assessment (EA) was published. The public has until July 10 to comment on it, but already environmentalists are critical of some aspects. For one thing, the EA doesn’t contain an inventory of the plant and animal species inhabiting the area, some of which are considered “sensitive,” like the Ohlone tiger beetle. In addition, rare habitat types like the coastal prairie there are protected by the Coastal Act and there is no data on the grassland composition.
The proposed parking lot seems inadequate to serve both hikers and visitors to Laguna Beach. It is already filled to overflowing on good beach days, and according to the BLM EA about 30 cars overflow onto the highway shoulder. The lot can’t be expanded because of the steep rocky embankment bounding it. Any plan that results in more cars parked along Highway 1 seems dangerous for pedestrians crossing the road and the many bicyclists who ride there.
Haze Settles Over Pot Growing Rules
The oft-changing rules for legally growing pot for sale to medical marijuana dispensaries in the county are again in limbo. On April 14 the Board of Supervisors approved, by a vote of 3 to 2, a new regulation banning all cultivation except by individual medical marijuana cardholders. (Supervisors Ryan Coonerty and John Leopold were the “no” voters, saying they would rather see an ordinance that regulated how and where medical marijuana was grown legally.) It was to go into effect in mid-May.
The many growers in the county, represented by 100 or more disappointed and vocal attendees at the April 14 Board meeting, quickly circulated a petition for a referendum to overturn the ban. In three weeks they gathered 11,210 signatures, and filed it with County Clerk Gail Pellerin, who soon determined that there were many more than the minimum signatures needed to place it on the ballot. On June 18 Ms. Pellerin announced officially that indeed the referendum had qualified to be decided by the voters.
So what does this mean?
For one thing, it means that the cultivation ban is suspended until the election, and the rules for growing pot will revert back to those adopted by the Supervisors on Sept. 16, unless the Supervisors pass a new ordinance. The Sept. 16 rules allowed cultivators to grow up to 99 plants for sale to local dispensaries.
The Supervisors have several options. They can simply repeal the ban, letting the Sept. 16 ordinance stay in effect, or they can place the growers’ referendum on either the June 2016 ballot (more likely) or call a special election. Or, they can write a different ordinance and ask the voters to approve it on either ballot. However, if it is not to their liking, the pharmers may write their own initiative and try to put it on the ballot as a competing measure. They certainly have shown they have the political muscle to do that. Whichever measure gets more votes would become law.
Supervisor Coonerty told the audience at the May 13 RBDA meeting that it’s clear that the growers can quickly muster enough opposition to rules they don’t like to overturn them.
The Supervisors will probably discuss what to do at their August 4 meeting.
The June 2016 ballot is expected to also feature a State-wide proposition to legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. Approval of recreational use could simplify some things—it could make it clear which grows are legal—but of course it would lead to another big jump in the number of pot pharms.
The State and Supervisors so far have been unable to create laws that protect our neighborhoods from the negative impacts (water usage, fire danger, watchmen, dogs and bright lights to guard crops) from the minority of marijuana cultivators who create unsafe or even threatening conditions, don’t respect the wishes and rights of their neighbors, and take advantage of the County’s inability to keep up with and prosecute violators. The County’s Code Compliance officers are working on over 150 cases, and the number continues to grow with the increasing popularity and tolerance of marijuana use.
What is clear through the smokescreen of constantly changing and conflicting marijuana cultivation rules is that to successfully compete with the growers any other interest group, like neighborhood residents, will have to be highly organized.
Supervisors Ask for Rewrite on Proposed Land Use Regulation Changes
The game-changing effort by the Board of Supervisors to update land use and zoning regulations and streamline the permit process hit a big bump May 19 when all five supervisors told the Planning Dept. to go back to the drawing board.
At an earlier meeting, planners presented proposed changes to farm and winery regulations aimed at permitting more promotional events. On May 19 the focus was on changes to commercial events permitted on residential properties. It quickly became clear that all of the Supervisors had heard from constituents concerned about the impacts on their neighborhoods, including shared wells and narrow private driveways. The proposal had gone so far as to allow smaller events on properties without even requiring a permit, and to allow larger and more frequent events on certain properties without any public notice or input, as long as amplified music isn’t involved.
We considered this a frontal attack on the integrity and tranquility of our neighborhoods and told the Supervisors as much. Some critics even felt that the proposed changes are in violation of Measure J, the growth limitation ordinance passed by the voters in 1978, which quickly corked the state-leading growth rate in Santa Cruz County.
Supervisor John Leopold of Live Oak said he was most concerned that hundreds of homes in his district would suddenly be capable of hosting commercial events without any permit requirements. Supervisor Zack Friend of Aptos-Soquel said the proposed rules were much too complex and that they would immediately “codify events as the de facto industry” in the County.
Supervisor Ryan Coonerty asked that the proposals be revised and presented to the public in a series of meeting over the summer, before coming back to the Supervisors again at their Sept. 29 meeting.
In a post-meeting email to the RBDA Board, he wrote: “I told Planning staff that my original intention was to reduce commercial events in rural areas, not facilitate them, and I asked that they return with code changes that did not create businesses in rural areas.”
At the May 19 meeting the planners also presented proposed changes to the Home Occupation ordinance, in an attempt to make it clear that it applies to such occupations as personal training, art and music lessons, artisans and the like, and not hosting commercial events. We thought that the existing ordinance was clear enough in that regard; nevertheless the language of the Home Occupation ordinance was used to justify the Castle House permit approval.
The proposed land use rules changes will be the focus of our Sept. 9 meeting, with Supervisor Coonerty as the featured speaker. The new regulations could have a profound effect on the 99% of us who value privacy, peace and quiet of neighborhoods throughout the county, so circle this one on your calendar if this is something you care about. And how could you not?
Rail Trail Sailing Ahead
The dream of a way for bikers or hikers to move through the county with minimum encounters with cars, and for commuters, shoppers and students to travel by rail between Aptos and Santa Cruz, may be about to take another big step forward.
That dream, the Coastal Rail Trail, has been steadily marching ahead, although it still has many years and many miles to go. Almost half of the county’s population lives within a mile of the trail.
The trail will be a link in the 1,300 mile California Coastal Trail, and join a similar trail being built around the Monterey County coastline.
For residents of Bonny Doon and the North Coast, the significance is that at some point access to our multiple outdoor attractions will be much easier, with people able to arrive and leave by rail or bike in addition to automobile. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has committed $3 million to match a federal grant to build the Rail Trail from Wilder State Park north to about Panther Beach, about a mile past Laguna Beach and the entrance to the proposed new Coast Dairies hiking trail, (see story page 1). As an aside, State Parks is rumored to be planning a big expansion to the parking and visitor facilities at Wilder.
Recently the Land Trust committed $2.5 million to match a $12 million grant to build 1.7 miles of the Rail Trail, including the track for the planned train service, or $8.5 million a mile. That compares to the overall cost estimate for the planned 32- mile trail from Watsonville to the north county line, $126 million, (about the same as the county’s annual transportation budget) a bit under $4 million a mile, This section is expensive because it goes through Live Oak, from 17th Avenue to the San Lorenzo River, an area of dense population. Over its 32-mile length the trail crosses a lot of streets and creeks, so 21 bridges must be built at a projected construction cost of $29 million.
The trail must conform to the federal standards for a “transportation corridor.” It will be 8 ft. wide and paved. Design, engineering, construction and management are projected to cost $62 million.
It is all in the Coastal Zone, so a lot of extra permits are required, at a cost of $8 million.
County Sued Over Castle House Permit
A group calling itself the Unincorporated Friends and Neighbors of Bonny Doon has filed a suit against the County over its approval of a permit for weddings at the Castle House on Bonny Doon Road.
The suit follows the exhaustion of administrative remedies for blocking the permit, which allows up to four weddings a year for as many as 50 people. The final step in that process was the rejection in May by the California Coastal Commission of an appeal by the group, on the grounds that the issue wasn’t significant enough for the state as a whole.
The long contentious saga over the events permit for the Castle House, which would have set a precedent for allowing a residentially zoned property to be the site of a commercial events business, has triggered the County to look more closely at its rules for permitting events in residential areas (see land use story above) and the language of the Home Occupation ordinance.
Members of the Bonny Doon group say that while they are obviously concerned about the impacts of an events venue in their midst, and what they say were violations by County staff of the existing regulations in the approval of the permit, they are mainly motivated by the potential for events centers to pop up in residential areas (RR and RA zones) all over Bonny Doon and the County.
Work for the Betterment of Bonny Doon
With all the critical issues now threatening to impact the quality of life in Bonny Doon—proposed new land use regulations allowing more commercial uses of residential property, changing cannabis cultivation rules, the planned opening of two huge park-like properties to the public, Coast Dairies and San Vicente Redwoods—the work of the RBDA is as important as ever. But because of two recent resignations the RBDA Executive Board is now down to five members. We very much need two community-minded people to step up and serve.
In June long-time board member Lad Wallace found the pressures of running his expanding business just too time-consuming, and Jeff Alford resigned for personal reasons.
This is an opportunity to really make a difference in the life of your community. For nearly 60 years the RBDA has fought to limit commercial development and keep housing tracts out of Bonny Doon in order to preserve our quality of life and the environment despite ever-intensifying economic pressure. To maintain that effort requires people to step up. If this is important to you, and you have just a few hours a week to volunteer, email the board at email@example.com, or contact any board member at the phone numbers above.
Prime Season for Fire Safety
As we head into the heart of fire season— though the prolonged drought has made it seem like fire season all-year round in the Doon—it is time to really make sure we have the most fire safe conditions around our homes and in our neighborhoods.
That means creating defensible space around our houses, cutting shaded fuel breaks, removing flammable brush along driveways, and coordinating resources and/or forming work teams with neighbors both to prevent fire or deal with it if it occurs.
A lot of information is available. Start at the website for the Bonny Doon Fire Safe Council, www.bdfsc.org, which also contains a link to the excellent website, http://www.fireadapted. org. Click on the link in the “Residents & Home” section for a detailed primer on what to do on your own land.
If you haven’t already taken the measures recommended, it’s time to start, for your own and our community’s sake. It’s not a question of if we will ever have a wildfire in Bonny Doon again, it’s when, and when when comes, you’ll wish you’d prepared.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Bonny Doon Planning District
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Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari