November/December 2015 issue
El Niño: Wild Child or Under-Achiever?
Andrea O’Neill, USGS Meteorologist
What Should the Rules Be for Pot Farming?
Wednesday, November 11, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade
|El Niño – Wild Child or
Will this be another winter like 1998, when we got 86 inches of rain (depending on exactly where in Bonny Doon you measure it) thanks to a powerful El Niño condition? Or will it be closer to our average of 39 inches, which is about what we got last rainy season (36 inches), nearly half of it in December.
As California continues to deal with the drought, one of the strongest ever El Niño events is projected for this winter, according to records going back to 1950. What exactly is El Niño and how may it impact us? Will we experience huge storms, mudslides, flooding, humongous waves, and shoreline erosion?
Answers and the latest and best estimates will be shared with Dooners at our Nov. 11 RBDA meeting by Andrea O’Neill, an oceanographer and meteorologist with the U.S. Geological Survey Pacific Coastal and Marine Science Center in Santa Cruz, where she has worked the past three years. She previously served for 10 years with the U.S. Navy in Japan, tailoring forecasts and climatological products for resource planning.
The general predictions are that this rainy season will be wetter than normal, but it is by no means certain. The San Francisco and Monterey Bay Areas are at the northern edge of the area where increased precipitation is forecast, so just a little swing southward and the prediction may not come true. But let’s hear what an expert like Ms. O’Neill has to say about it.
|Pot Farming: the State Steps In and Steps Up
Almost 20 years after Proposition 215 passed in 1996, making California the first state to legalize medical marijuana, our State Legislature has finally stepped up to bring some sense to the patchwork of California counties’ rules regulating cultivation, distribution and sale.
In early October Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law three bills that also should create a framework for regulating recreational pot, which almost certainly will be on our ballot in 2016. State law AB266 establishes the state medical marijuana bureau and gives it sole authority to issue, suspend or revoke licenses for transportation, distribution and sale. AB243 requires marijuana farmers to obtain licenses through the state Dept. of Food and Agriculture, and gives the state the power to fine any grower who harms a river, stream or lake. SB643 requires the Medical Board of California to investigate doctors who recommend the drug excessively and makes it a misdemeanor for doctors with a financial stake in a medical marijuana facility to prescribe the drug.
The State Water Resources Board has also established rules to protect our surface and groundwater from problems related to pot farming.
Local governments have been free to establish their own regulations, as long as they didn’t violate the boundaries sketched by Prop. 215. It required patients to get a physician’s recommendation to grow their own or buy it from a licensed dispensary. In 2003 the State set limits for possession and cultivation by eligible individual patients and their caregivers: 8 ounces of usable marijuana, although doctors could authorize more if they saw fit; and cultivation of 6 mature or 12 immature plants. However, counties were free to allow a grow space of 100 sq. ft., and Santa Cruz approved that generous rule. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom’s recent commission on marijuana regulations said that created a situation where people could legally grow more pot than they personally needed. Combined with Santa Cruz’s well known tolerance for use and suitable climate, the rule made the county a magnet for pot farmers.
Meanwhile, growing pot use and acceptance and authorities’ reluctance or inability to enforce the law, has led to growing consumption, and many more people willing to risk farming to sell to the black market. There is evidence that people from outside the county are buying land here for cultivation. The County Planning Dept. knows about more than 150 illegal grows, but hasn’t the resources or will to deal with most of them.
The new state laws should help local authorities by making it clear which pot grows are legal, and letting them crack down on the others, if they have the will and the resources. A new tax passed in the County last year (Measure K) could supply almost a million dollars a year for enforcement.
The new State laws don’t take effect until 2018, but local governments have only until March 1 to write their own regulations, within the State’s guidelines, about where commercial medical marijuana may be grown, and under what circumstances. The Supervisors have created a 13-member Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee, composed of five concerned citizens, one from each district, five growers and three people with various experience and expertise in pot regulation. It was supposed to report to Supervisors in mid-December with recommendations for policies to protect neighborhoods and the environment from pot farming’s negative impacts, while ensuring an adequate supply for patients with a doctor’s recommendation. Faced with the new March 1 deadline, on Oct. 23 the Supervisors told the committee that it would consider an interim ordinance on Dec. 8.
We are very concerned about the negative impacts of commercial cultivation on our neighborhoods and the environment. If we expect the County to create and enforce new regulations that truly meet their published criteria, we need to take an active role and make our voices heard loud and clear. At our Nov. 11 RBDA meeting we will set aside some time to listen to your thoughts about what regulations will best protect Bonny Doon residents and the environment from the growing impacts.
EIR for New Land Use Rules to Start
On Sept. 29 the Board of Supervisors voted to begin the Environmental Impact Report process for sweeping land use and permit process rules changes. The Planning Dept.’s original proposals were modified after a series of public meetings in September in the Supervisors' districts.
The first of those meetings was the RBDA meeting Sept. 9, attended by more than 100 people. The takeaway sentiment was very clear regarding commercial events in residential neighborhoods: the noise and traffic is unacceptable.
At the RBDA meeting it was apparent that the Planners had the astounding impression that residents were opposed to homeowners renting out their property for weddings but not similar celebrations that create noise, traffic and inebriation. The message was clearly heard and at the Sept. 29 Supervisors’ meeting the proposed rules had been changed to include all types of commercial celebrations, which will be prohibited on residential properties on less than 8 acres and in the Coastal Zone. This includes almost all of Bonny Doon.
Of course it doesn’t apply to people hosting private parties (weddings, birthdays, whatever) for friends and family, although they have to comply with the County’s noise ordinance, which has also been strengthened to reduce impacts on neighbors.
Other parts of the sweeping proposals were also changed. Stringent restrictions on storage containers were loosened after people from rural areas complained that they are very useful and don’t make the same visual impacts as they do in denser neighborhoods.
Among the proposed rules are eased regulations that allow wineries, breweries and farms to promote themselves and boost their bottom line through agro-tourism—farm dinners and other events. Wineries are grouped into three different categories by size, and the larger the winery the more and larger events it can have.
The new proposals also streamline and improve the permit process, which has been strongly criticized for years. While the new regulations hopefully will be written in very clear language, there is always concern that Planners may allow uses or activities, albeit with conditions, seemingly prohibited by the new code. That means the burden of fighting a permit approval still will fall on neighbors, who will continue to have to pay serious money to file an appeal.
The Home Occupation ordinance has been rewritten to ensure it can’t be used to allow commercial events. The new language should make it clear that the residential properties may only be used commercially for such businesses as professional services like accounting, mechanics’ workshops, art and craft studios, or exercise or similar training classes for small numbers of customers at a time.
Planners said the proposed regulations are designed to make it easier for non-profit community organizations like the school and the fire team to get permits for fundraisers on private property, and to renew them, although some people are uneasy that any regulation will be costly and a burden. The Supervisors voted to limit the number of such events to two per property per year.
The impacts of all the proposals will be studied during the EIR process, which should begin soon with a public announcement of a so-called scoping process, a public meeting or at least a period of time during which people can point out impacts that should be studied. That will be followed by the study and the publication of a draft EIR; a 30-to-60 day window for the public to respond to that; a Planning Commission and Supervisors’ hearing; and then the presentation of the final EIR for the Supervisors’ approval. The entire process is expected to take the better part of a year. The Supervisors directed the Planning Dept. to set up and publicize a website to keep the public informed.
Of course, no matter what the new rules say and what protections are created to limit the impacts of any projects, the effectiveness will still come down to the Planning Dept.’s enforcement of the code. As Supervisor John Leopold said on Sept. 29, “We’re responsible for policy. The Planning Dept. is responsible for carrying it out.”
Tourism Drives the Coast Dairies National Monument Train
It has become clearer than ever that the main motivation to make Coast Dairies (which will be known as Cotoni-Coast Dairies) a national monument is to increase tourism in northern Santa Cruz County. The phrase “to boost tourism” occurs in all the bills, news releases and pronouncements by its backers, from Sen. Barbara Boxer to Rep. Anna Eshoo to Sempervirens President Fred Keeley.
Here’s an excerpt from Sen. Boxer’s news release announcing her introduction of a bill to make Coast Dairies part of the California Coastal National Monument:
“Expanding the Monument is not just good for our conservation efforts – it is also good for the economy. Each of these natural treasures [four smaller California properties are included in her bill] showcases the breathtaking coastlines and recreational opportunities that draw visitors from California and across the world.”
Why is that a problem? There is an increasing body of research that shows that predators—mountain lions, bobcats, badgers, foxes—avoid areas frequented by humans, even if they are just hiking, let alone camping or careening around on mountain bikes. That has cascading effects on their prey, and the vegetation they consume. Thus, the entire environment becomes distorted. And isn’t protection and preservation of the environment the main reason we worked hard to keep Coast Dairies undeveloped?
Unlike almost all other properties that have been preserved by national monument status, Coast Dairies is already a federally owned property, protected in perpetuity by strict deed restrictions and a Coastal Development Permit.
Hordes of visitors will also overwhelm Davenport, which is already reeling from crowds of visitors on sunny, warm weekend days, and further gridlock traffic on Mission Street and area highways.
Who does more tourism benefit? Davenport’s handful of restaurants and one small hotel are busy as they can be on summer weekends. The motels and restaurants in Santa Cruz will get more business. But is that so great? Tourist industry jobs are notoriously low paying. Affordable housing is already a serious problem. Where will the hotel maids, wait staff and dishwashers live? Is this really worth ruining Davenport, impacting the environment, adding even more visitors to our busy beaches, gridlocking roads and all the other negative impacts?
Another issue that hasn’t been much discussed is whether Coast Dairies is really worthy of national monument recognition? It doesn’t have any WOW! features, like the huge redwoods of Big Basin or the soaring rock outcroppings of the Pinnacles. It has gorgeous views of the shore and the ocean, but so does every public and private property on the coastal hills between Santa Cruz and Pescadero. Coast Dairies was thoroughly logged, exploited for minerals and grazed by livestock during the 20th century. Non-native invasive plants abound. Use of the hulking, rusting, dangerous-substance laden cement plant property as a gateway is at best many years away.
Yes, Coast Dairies is valuable as open space and habitat for many species of wildlife, some of which are threatened or endangered, and was well deserving of protection and preservation. But lowering the standards for national monument status is a bad idea and creates even more competition for the ever-scarcer federal dollars to properly manage the properties already protected, or that deserve such status, like the 300,000 acre Mojave Desert lands that Sen. Dianne Feinstein is trying to protect.
It is clear that Sen. Boxer and Rep. Eshoo are merely responding to pressure from Sempervirens Fund and their Silicon Valley supporters, who have their own agenda. That was obvious from the Sept. 21 Davenport meeting. Rep. Eshoo wouldn’t even grant time for the RBDA to talk about the petition we presented to her there, signed by more than 600 mostly local people. In a subsequent letter she wrote, “Without Monument status, the land will likely remain closed to the public…” This is patently untrue: BLM is already working to open the first trail there.
Having struck out with Sen. Boxer and Rep. Eshoo, we are now focusing our efforts on federal Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. Since in the Republican controlled Congress the bills stand virtually no chance of passage, it will be up to Sec. Jewell to recommend that President Obama use the National Antiquities Act to make Coast Dairies a monument. We need to try to impress on her the overwhelming local opposition from North Coast communities, and the reasons for it.
You can help: write letters to the editors of local publications and to Secretary Sally Jewell <email@example.com> • Phone: (202) 208-3100 • Mail: Department of the Interior, 1849 C Street, N.W., Washington DC 20240
It’s a long shot that we’ll be able to succeed, but it’s definitely worth a try. Join the conversation at Friends of the North Coast on Facebook, and visit www.friendsofthenorthcoast.org.
RBDA Board Nominations
With the critical issues that could have major impacts on Bonny Doon, serving on the RBDA Board may be more important than ever. If you care about your community and want to help preserve our quality of life and our environment, we urge you to consider participating.
We elect new RBDA board members at our annual meeting in January. According to our Bylaws, candidates must be nominated at the November RBDA meeting. There are three Board members whose terms expire in January, those of Ted Benhari, Betsy Firebaugh and Dave Rubin. In addition, the members must approve the appointment of Clay Peters, whom the board chose earlier this year to fill an empty seat.
As per the Bylaws, the Board selected one of its officers, Andy Davidson, to head the Nominating Committee. If you are interested in running for the Board, or just would like to talk about what is involved, please contact Andy through the RBDA email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. To run for the Board you must have been an RBDA member as of Oct. 11, one month before the Nov. 11 General Meeting.
Under the Bylaws, RBDA members may vote by absentee ballot. To obtain one, send a signed request to Membership Coordinator Andy Davidson, care of Rural Bonny Doon Association, P.O. Box 551, Felton, CA 95018. You must give the member’s name and address, and send a self-addressed stamped legal-sized envelope. The request is due by Dec. 15 and the ballot must be received by the Membership Coordinator by Jan. 13, 2016.
As we wrote about in January, the RBDA Board decided it would be advantageous for the RBDA to be formally organized as a corporation. For the past year we pursued that, and in late August the State approved our application as a tax-exempt non-profit 501(c)(4) organization.
We have had similar status with the federal government since 1988, but not as a corporation. Corporate status provides strong legal protections for the organization and board members against frivolous or retaliatory lawsuits when we take positions on various issues. Initially we explored the idea of becoming a 501(c)(3) corporation, which would have allowed donations to the RBDA to be tax deductible, but the legal hurdles to achieving that status for an advocacy organization like ours caused us to abandon the effort.
Incorporation won’t have any effect on the way the RBDA and the Board and organization function. It does require the addition of three new paragraphs to our Bylaws, in Article II-B, that refer to our new corporate status under State law. As per our Bylaws, those paragraphs will be read to the membership at our November meeting, published in the January 2016 Highlander, and voted on by members at the January Annual Meeting.
What We Do
Besides publishing The Highlander and holding five meetings a year to inform Dooners on important local issues and the natural world, the RBDA advocates for preservation of the environment and our lifestyle, and for health and safety issues.
The RBDA’s founders were prime movers in the first County General Plan and zoning regulations, keeping Bonny Doon from becoming suburbia. Over our nearly 60-year history we have won many battles to stop, or at least mitigate the negative impacts of, harmful regulations and developments.
The RBDA played a significant role in helping preserve properties like Wilder/ Gray Whale, Coast Dairies and the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve (keeping it from becoming a golf course surrounded by houses), stopped a 250-guest event center, thwarted the CEMEX quarry’s expansion, halted UCSC’s extension into Bonny Doon, and beat back a large trailer park.
Just in case you were wondering.
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 email@example.com.
The Bonny Doon Planning District
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Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari