Conflict on the Future of Our Coast
By Tim McKusick
The meeting room at the Timber Cove Volunteer Fire Department was filled beyond capacity as Sonoma Coastal residents met with Sonoma County’s Permit and Resources Department (PRMD) to discuss the proposed changes in the preliminary draft of the Local Coastal Plan Update.
This meeting was added to the list of community informational meetings being given by the PRMD, and the public comment period is being extended until September 30, 2015, due to the tremendous outcry of the residents who claim they are being negatively impacted by the “industrialization and commercialization” of their rural Sonoma County neighborhoods.
Center to the issues being discussed is language allowing winery event centers to be developed in the rural areas and coastal ranges of Sonoma County. Residents from Bodega Bay, Jenner, Timber Cove and the inland coastal ranges packed the room. Representatives of Sonoma Coast Surfrider Foundation, the preserveruralsonomacounty.org group (represented by former Sonoma County Supervisor Ernie Carpenter), as well as many members of the Sonoma Coastal Hills Rural Preservation group (currently in a lawsuit with the County of Sonoma over the Board of Supervisor’s approval of the industrial printing operation at the rural coastal campus of Ratna Ling) spoke of losing the fragile and unique beauty that makes this coast so special.
Former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter who was on the Coastal Commission when they adopted the current Plan that now is being changed, explained the “insidious nature” of the loopholes that are being exploited by wineries and others.
“Motivation-wise, they are saying that the Coast is no longer a special, fragile, unique place. They want to take the General Plan policies and bring them over and ‘drop them on the coast’. I don’t know why, perhaps it is easier for PRMD in a bureaucratic sense. Perhaps the Board of Supervisors wants to develop the coast. I don’t know.”
“The most insidious part is the agricultural element.” He explained, “The General Plan does not allow for commercial kitchens in rural areas. Period. It also does not allow restaurants in these areas. Period. However, if you have ½ acre of grapes and wish to promote your Sonoma County Agricultural Products (wine), you are allowed to build a ‘castle’ (tasting room) and have 1,000 cars a day. You can truck in your juice from Ojai, bottle it and ship it out with ‘Coastal Appellation’ on the label!”
“And this is not an inexpensive endeavor, so the investors will be building as big as possible to maximize their returns; It will be the Hearst Castle! All of this is an area with severe water shortages, narrow country roads, and already over-stretched emergency services.”
“These (general plan) policies are not currently allowed out here on the Coast, but are allowed elsewhere. The PRMD wants to make it the same everywhere, and are telling you that nothing has changed. The very same Board of Supervisors who voted for Ratna Ling will most likely give you any castle you want; unless you change your Board of Supervisors we ‘will get killed here on the Coast!’” Carpenter went on to say that he was not running for office, but that he and others had formed Preserve Rural Sonoma County to fight this very thing.
Coastal ridge resident Bruce Johnson, who spoke on behalf of the Sonoma Coastal Hills Rural Preservation organization asked the PRMD spokespersons, “What will it take? What will it take for the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors to take us seriously and listen to what the people are saying? We had these same conversations when the Board of Supervisors was contemplating approving Ratna Ling’s industrial printing operation here in our rural area. You listened politely to our reasons and evidence why the industrial printing operation was inappropriate in our rural coastal neighborhood, and then you voted it in anyway. That is why we are now in Court!”
Coastal resident Susan Rudy, whose family has owned the iconic Stillwater Cove Ranch for generations, said that the Highway One noise is already unbearable, and can only get worse with the increased wine tourism. “Highway One is a recreational entity unto itself,” she said. “With the groups of motorcycles that increasingly are using it for tours, the noise is relentless.” Carolyn Singer commented that “We can hear it all the way up here on the ridge!”
Other coastal residents took issue with the Coastal Redwoods being written off in the Plan as just being a resource ‘like gas or oil’. “We see them as a treasure to be nourished and protected; and are key to a heathy eco-system in our coastal communities.” At a time when removing (logging) these trees has shown to have a direct connection to the depleting water tables and diminishing stream water levels, to remove any more of them to be replaced with thirsty grape vines is backward thinking and contrary to logic.
Others commented that there are many more issues with the General Plan than Agri-Tourism that need as much scrutiny, and we must keep the Supervisors aware of our feelings through continued letter writing campaigns.
Part of a solution as proposed by many audience members would be to separate viticulture and wineries from other Sonoma County ag-related industries when being considered in the General Plan revisions. “Wineries are industrial in nature and have no place in the rural landscape”, was one observation. “This loophole in the Plan which would allow event centers under the guise of being Tasting Rooms has to be addressed.”
The period for public comment on this subject was September 30. We will have to wait to see which way the Board of Supervisors leans on this very hot topic.
Locally, our Jenner Community Club had their annual Fishstock fundraiser over Labor Day weekend. It was a smashing success with over $8,000 raised to ‘keep the lights on’ at their Jenner Community Center. They are also having serious discussions regarding sea level rise projected in the future and how best to protect their seaside community.
Sonoma Coast Surfrider had their annual Blue Water Paddle Races on September 20 in Bodega Bay with a wonderful turnout and a great time had by all. They are having ongoing meetings regarding their opposition to the proposed Iron Rangers on the Sonoma Coast Beaches.
For more information:
The Coastal Plan is still in process - this has a long way to go before it gets adopted. Now is a good time to familiarize yourself with areas of concern. Special attention is being paid to these three elements of the 9 element plan.
AGRICULTURAL RESOURCES: www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/LCP-Element-03-Agricultural-Resources.pdf
For background information, the full documents - and maps - on the Coastal Plan - please visit this website: http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/coastal/
If you would like more information or were unable to attend the public workshops, you can request digital copies of the plan by contacting Lisa Posternak by e-mail:email@example.com; phone: 707-565-7383;
Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department
2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403