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Conflict on the Future of Our Coast


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 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.




For background information,  the full documents - and maps - on the Coastal Plan - please visit this website:

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; phone: 707-565-7383;

Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department

2550 Ventura Avenue, Santa Rosa, CA 95403


Date: 10/8/2015

From: Sonoma County Conservation Action, Dennis Rosatti Direct Contact (707) 495-9735

Re: LCP Comments submitted by Sonoma County Conservation Action

10/8/2015, Santa Rosa, CA - In a comment letter to the Sonoma County Planning Department dated September 30, 2015, Sonoma County Conservation Action (SCCA), Sonoma County’s largest environmental organization, expressed concerns regarding Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department’s Draft Update for the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan (LCP). This letter prompted a public comment.

Rather than further enhancing the protection of Sonoma County’s fragile but extraordinarily beautiful and biological rich coastal zone, the draft update would in its present form allow for development that flies in the face of past successful citizen, non-profit and governmental initiatives in Sonoma County to protect the Sonoma coast.

“We’re hoping to avoid the Napafication of the Coast,” said Dennis Rosatti, Executive Director of Conservation Action. “The draft LCP must be tightened up to ensure we don’t invite the inland problems of overconcentration of wineries and tasting rooms, and additional issues of traffic, inadequate police and fire response times, and infrastructure problems with roads, parking, bathrooms, etc to the coastal zone. The Sonoma Coast is too important for us to place it at risk of being overrun with wineries and event centers.”

Among Conservation Action’s specific concerns with the draft plan are the following: 

  • The plan consistently incorporates language from the County General Plan 2020 not in the least suited to protecting the unique coastal zone ecology that the Coastal Act mandates must be maintained. Rather it is incumbent that the LCP incorporate only language that is consistent with the gold standards set forth in the Coastal Act. One critical example is incorporating inappropriate agricultural policies to the area. Simply stated, that is large scale vineyard development and the inevitable amenities that accompany it.

To the limited extent vineyards are allowed in the coastal zone, they should strictly be limited to slopes defined in VESCO (Vineyard Erosion and Sediment Control Ordinance).  The plan should also encompass an outright ban on the conversions of a) all Class I, II, and III timberland classifications; and, b) of all oak woodland and/or mixed hardwood forests.

  • The Plan fails to address the potential proliferation of onshore support services for offshore energy development. It is essential that the plan set very high standards for permitting such onshore services, given the immense impacts they would likely have on harbors, fisheries, aquatic ecology and the coast’s magnificent view shed.
  • The plan fails to adequately protect water resources from encroachment from new development, such as regulation of setbacks from streams for vineyard, other agricultural and all residential or commercial uses, while requiring new development proposals to demonstrate that their long term water supply will have no adverse impacts on surrounding surface or groundwater supplies.
  • The plan fails to adequately address the need to limit the potential proliferation of housing in the coastal zone for lack of utilities, water supply, road upkeep, and fire and safety services in the Coastal Zone.


Sonoma County Conservation Action is the nonprofit, nonpartisan political arm of Sonoma County's environmental movement. Conservation Action provides political activism for Sonoma County residents concerned about the county's environment and quality of life. Conservation Action's full-time organizing staff knocks on roughly 70,000 doors in the county every year, identifying environmentally concerned residents, distributing information and election endorsements and mobilizing residents to write decision-makers and to volunteer for electoral campaigns.  Started in 1991, Conservation Action is Sonoma County’s largest environmental organization.