Peregrine Falcons: Back from the Brink
Stewart, UCSC Predatory Bird Research Group
RBDA General Meeting
Wednesday September 8, 2010
7pm - earlier than usual
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Ice Cream Grade & Pine Flat Road
The Falcon and the Assemblyman
The peregrine falcon is the fastest animal on the planet. Near vertical dives in pursuit of prey often exceed 200 mph. “Peregrine” is Latin for “wanderer” or “foreigner.” Some peregrines that breed in the upper Arctic migrate as far as the high central plains of Argentina for the winter.
This magnificent bird almost became extinct because the pesticide DDT was causing eggshell thinning and breakage. By 1970, no peregrine falcons could be found nesting successfully east of the Mississippi River, and just two pairs were found producing young in California.
Come join us Wednesday, Sept. 8, at 7 pm, and hear Glenn Stewart, Director of the Predatory Bird Research Group of UCSC, detail the amazing success story of peregrine resurgence. Stewart, of course, will be accompanied by his falcon.
Glenn graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in politics. He learned about the bird research group and thought, “I need to go back to school and do this.” He began volunteering for the group, re-enrolled at UC Santa Cruz in 1977 and earned a degree in environmental studies. Since that time, Glenn has held various roles at the Predatory Bird Research Group and other environmental organizations.
With the peregrines recovering, the focus of the Predatory Bird Recovery Group is shifting to sustaining them, and public education is a big part of that effort. Stewart will tell us about the recovery and his work with the peregrine nesting boxes in San Francisco and San Jose. The second part of the RBDA program will be a “town hall” meeting with our California Assemblymember, Bill Monning.
This will be Monning’s first visit to Bonny Doon since his election. We hear that he is looking forward to familiarizing himself with our unique community. He will be talking with us about local and state issues, and answering your questions. This is a critical time in California and we encourage everyone concerned about the economy, education, the parks and other issues that affect Bonny Doon to attend. Bring the kids for this unique educational opportunity! Because it’s a school night, we are starting our program a half hour early (7 p.m.), with Stewart leading off.
Giving the Public a Voice in Coast Dairies Uses
When the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County began soliciting donations to demonstrate community support for the acquisition of Coast Dairies, locals responded, hoping to avoid development that was proposed for the 7,000 acre property that stretches, with few interruptions, for almost 7 coastal miles from Laguna to Scott Creek.
After the deal was completed with the help of generous grants, community members stepped up again when asked by the acquirers, the Trust for Public Land (TPL), to participate in a Community Advisory Group to help inform the development of a conservation oriented management plan for the property. State Parks, the federal Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the local Farm Bureau’s entity, Agri-Culture, were identified as the “take out” agencies that would receive title to the various portions of the property. But when the time came for TPL to divide and transfer the land, it was apparent that the process had not been given the same thought that the long-term uses had. Moreover, it became clear that the goals and restrictions identified by the Community Advisory Group and the Management Plan would not necessarily be applied to the property when it was transferred.
Concerned citizens who donated time and money toward conservation oriented management didn’t see a means to ensure that those goals would be implemented in an enforceable way, because TPL claimed the property transfer was exempt from requirements for a Coastal Development Permit (CDP), ordinarily needed when new parcels are being created or a change of use takes place. County processing of a Coastal Development Permit offers the public a chance to participate in a process that could lead to permit conditions that ensured the resource protection the community sought for the property.
Deed restrictions were discussed but never agreed upon. A Memorandum of Understanding was proposed but TPL was unwilling to agree to make it enforceable. A 2004 letter from Coastal Commission staff informed TPL that a CDP was required and urged TPL to file an application with the County. Letters from County Counsel reinforced the position of the Coastal Commission staff but TPL instead continued to look for ways to exempt itself.
Ultimately, after years of discussion, a Feb 10, 2010 letter from former Planning Dept. Director Tom Burns informed the public that the County would not require a CDP. However, State law provides an opportunity to challenge such determinations by requiring the County to ask the Executive Director of the Coastal Commission to determine whether a permit is required. The County was asked to request that determination and settle the question but the County declined, so on March 26, a Petition was filed in Superior Court requesting that the Court direct the County to require a CDP or ask for a determination from the Executive Director.
The Petition was filed on behalf of Save Our Agricultural Lands (SOAL), and several individuals. The RBDA board voted to join as petitioners at no cost to membership. The Board felt that without a permit process the County was denying the public an opportunity to have a say in the future uses of the Coast Dairies property, roughly half of which is in our Bonny Doon Planning Area. On July 19 we listened as the County argued before Judge Timothy Volkmann that the case should not be brought because the subdivision and transfer had not happened, even though TPL had repeatedly expressed its intent to do so and the BLM had invested much time in surveying and mapping the proposed new parcels which would be transferred to BLM and Agri-Culture, Inc.
The Judge also had before him a new letter on behalf of the Coastal Commission Executive Director determining that a CDP is required and that the Coastal Commission would assume jurisdiction since the County was refusing to participate in the legally prescribed conflict resolution process. Despite the letter, and in denial of the public’s interest in the property, the judge ruled against the Petition, but gave leave to amend it. The Amended Petition was filed on August 20. Whether the County will continue to spend your money to deny you the right to participate in this planning process remains to be seen.
The RBDA’s Role in Land Use Issues
Land use conflicts have always aroused strong emotions. There is a strong tradition in the U.S. of individual property rights, and we support that, but what about when one property owner’s dream impacts a neighbor’s, a neighborhood’s or a community’s?
For more than 50 years, the RBDA has stood as the bulwark against dreams or schemes that would have a significant negative impact on Bonny Doon and our environment, from trailer parks to housing developments to golf courses to biotech goat pharms. These are the easy stances to take.
Others are more borderline and have aroused controversy, like our opposition to an event center posing as a winery. Often, people have asked us to weigh in when their neighbors are doing things without permits, or that aren’t allowed under zoning laws. While we sympathize with their concerns, we encourage them to work it out among themselves, because the problem doesn’t impact a large part of the community or threaten the environment in a significant way. We are certainly not code enforcers, nor police.
Lately, it seems, we have been approached more frequently to become involved, perhaps because the depressed economy has driven more people to try to make some money off their property. While we appreciate the frustration people feel when a neighbor starts an activity that brings noise and traffic, particularly an activity or home business not allowed under the zoning laws, we have to ask ourselves, is it really an issue that we should become involved in? The answers aren’t always clear and simple.
Recently we have also noted a disturbing trend: the emergence of what amounts to boarding houses in Bonny Doon, property owners taking advantage of loose State and local laws to build or remodel housing that they can rent to as many as 16 people, usually UCSC students. UCSC growth and the City’s crackdown on subpar or illegal rentals is probably propelling this trend. Of course that type of use is very disrupting to Bonny Doon neighborhoods, and we are urging the County to do what it can to nip it in the bud.
When should the RBDA become involved? As we wrote above, obviously when there is something that has or could have a significant negative impact on our community or environment. Not so obviously, when someone conducts an activity in serious violation of our zoning laws, which at bottom are a contract that every property owner has with the government. Zoning laws protect you if someone tries to engage in an activity that would reduce your enjoyment of your own property, and reduce its value. We believe that your right to do anything you want to on your own property has its limits. Still, that doesn’t mean that the RBDA should be the entity to enforce the zoning laws.
We understand how trying it is to fight with your neighbors, but often you must be willing to risk it to avoid getting walked over. Talking it over to try to come to an amicable solution without bringing in the authorities is always good, but sometimes it just doesn’t work.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of buildings that have been constructed without permits in the county, and many others where people are using them for purposes not allowed without a variance. We know that the permit process is frustrating and expensive, but at least it ensures that neighbors are informed about what is going on, that they have a chance to comment on it, and that work will be done with a degree of professionalism. That usually means that it won’t endanger the occupants or visitors or significantly harm the environment.
Additionally, it should be noted that every year the County loses millions of dollars in property taxes and fees because of unpermitted construction, which of course results in service cuts or higher tax rates for everyone else.
Therefore we encourage everyone to obey the laws and pay their fair share of taxes, but it isn’t the RBDA’s role to turn people in to the authorities. We have urged the County to improve its code compliance procedures, to pay for it out of the general fund instead of out of building fees, and to adopt policies to reverse the common wisdom that it is easier to obtain forgiveness than permission.
We welcome your input on this thorny issue.
Cemex Timberlands Headed for Public Ownership?
The Bonny Doon that we all live in and love constitutes only about half of our community’s land area. The unpopulated western half is owned by Cemex, and stretches from Empire Grade to the ocean. The principal activity there has been logging.
Including the cement plant and parcels in Davenport, the shale and limestone quarries and a few parcels along Smith Grade, Cemex owns 8,000 acres. The timber operations take place on 13 large parcels. Since Cemex abandoned its cement production operations here, the Bonny Doon land has attracted a lot of interest.
Would we like the large Bonny Doon parcels to be a State park? Become a BLM (Federal Bureau of Land Management) holding, as Coast Dairies is about to be? Continue in private hands for timbering, or sold off to individual owners who might log it, build houses, or both?
The Sempervirens Fund has been negotiating to buy the land but is bound by a confidentiality agreement not to talk about it. If it succeeds, it could turn it over to State Parks or BLM, or it may maintain ownership and continue logging operations, hopefully in a sustainable and safe way.
Whoever becomes the final owner, we want to know that they will manage it benignly and control access so that wildlife and the environment are protected. Especially in light of the events of the past 2 summers, we are very concerned that fire danger be minimized. Since a lot of the land drains into San Vicente Creek, Davenport’s water source, any logging must be protective of that resource.
Do you have concerns about or preferences for what happens with these lands? Let us know.
UCSC Water Expansion Flows Along
Ignoring the fact that they really don’t know how much water will be available after increased flows are required to maintain fish and frog habitat, on Aug. 3, as expected the Santa Cruz City Council certified the final version of the Environmental Impact Report on expansion of City water and sewer services to UCSC’s Upper (or North) Campus.
The vote was 4 to 1, with only Councilwoman Katherine Beiers agreeing with the RBDA, Community Water Coalition (CWC) and other speakers that the EIR was flawed and needed more work. She also agreed with our point that holding the City Council meeting in August when not only is the Council traditionally on vacation but so are many citizens and most of the students and faculty who are keenly interested in the issue. In fact, 2 of the 7 Council members weren’t present to weigh in on what is the most important issue for the City’s future.
Given the fact that a delay of a few weeks, or even months, would have absolutely no impact on UCSC’s construction plans, since they have no money and building won’t take place for years, it seems clear to us that those on the Council wishing to drive this matter forward were simply trying to limit public opposition to the EIR.
To us, the key problem with the EIR was the unknown size of the available water supply due to the necessity to maintain aquatic habitat. The City and State and Federal agencies have been negotiating for years over how much more water from North Coast streams and the San Lorenzo River will be required for habitat preservation. The City has run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs during the wrangling.
Nevertheless, the EIR contains no conjecture at all about the impact on the City’s water supply, despite requests from many environmental groups and the County of Santa Cruz to at least make some educated guesses.
The only obstacle now in the way of the Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) taking up the matter is a CWC suit claiming that State law requires the City, not the University, to apply for the expansion of sewer and water services. Judge Timothy Volkmann ruled against the CWC on Aug. 20, but he gave CWC attorney Jonathan Wittwer a month to amend and resubmit his case.
While LAFCO doesn’t have the power to require changes to the EIR, if the commissioners decide it is inadequate in important aspects it can vote to deny the service expansion applications. Pending the outcome of the CWC lawsuit, which could delay matters, a public LAFCO hearing on the expansion is expected in November.
Like Bonny Doon the Way It Is? Consider Running for the RBDA Board
The main reason that Bonny Doon continues to be the wonderful place that we love and cherish (besides all the generous and warm people who live here, of course) is that it has been protected from damaging development. The main reason for that? The Rural Bonny Doon Association. Every year we need new people to step forward and continue this critical mission. The election of new officers to the RBDA Executive Board begins with the November meeting, when nominations are made. The election is held at the January Annual Meeting.
This year we have four positions expiring, those of board members Miriam Beames, Ted Benhari, Marty Demare and Tom Hearn.
As per our Bylaws, the Executive Board will appoint a committee of three or more persons to nominate candidates for the Board. The committee will present its nominations at the Nov. 10 General Meeting. To run for the Executive Board you must have been a member in good standing as of Nov. 1. Since the Bylaws state that membership becomes effective 30 days after an application is submitted and dues are paid, anyone wishing to run for the board must be a member or have submitted an application by Oct. 1. Additional nominations will be accepted from the floor at the November meeting, after which nominations shall be closed.
For more than 50 years the RBDA has worked hard to protect the quality of life in Bonny Doon. In recent years we have also expanded our efforts—in reality, it’s a return to our roots—to include areas of community interest, like fire protection, road maintenance and postal service. If you are committed to our community and the RBDA mission of keeping Bonny Doon rural and natural, please contact any of our Board members (see phone numbers on page 4, or email us via our web site).
Goings-on in the Trees
Plans are underway for improvements at 18,000-acre Big Basin State Park. They may include new, modern lodging and better camping facilities, expanded mountain-biking trails, and moving most visitor services 3 miles outside the park on Hwy. 236 to reduce traffic at the main redwood grove. Planners say any changes at our oldest State Park will be made with the protection of the redwoods in mind. For information on the plan and planning process go to www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=21486. To comment, email firstname.lastname@example.org
How has civilization affected our iconic redwoods and sequoias? Thanks to funding from Save the Redwoods League and other concerned philanthropists, conservationists and scientists will employ cutting-edge technology to decode the information stored in the trees’ trunks, branches and leaves. The Redwoods Climate Change Initiative is a 3-year, $2.5 million collaborative project among UC Berkeley, Humboldt State University and state and federal parks.
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