Responding to Current Threats to the Sonoma Coast - PART 1
By Richard Charter
There is much to be thankful for on the Sonoma Coast, and there’s a lot you can do to protect it right now. Your current opportunities to act on behalf of our coast range from Permit Sonoma’s present process of updating our Local Coastal Plan to President Trump’s unwarranted Sonoma Coast “review” that still threatens our Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
In addition, there remains a looming federal offshore drilling scheme planned for our coast, and we are confronting Caltrans’ proposal to build a giant “Bridge to Nowhere” at Scotty Creek near Sereno del Mar, not to mention the attempted revival of a long-discredited proposal by the US Fish species anticoagulant rat poison pellets onto the Southeast Farallon Island.
Revising Our Local Coastal Plan for the New Era:
California’s statewide Coastal Plan first emerged in large part from the obvious need to preserve our public access to walk and picnic on Sonoma County beaches, beginning at the time that the Sea Ranch development was originally proposed. The local iteration of the State Coastal Plan here is called the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan (LCP).
Find out how you can directly participate in the rewriting of this plan, at http://LocalCoastalPlan.org
Significant changes in content from a prior earlier draft of the LCP document have now been proposed by the County, and the latest iteration of the LCP is currently being circulated for public review and comment.
At the heart of our LCP lies the public mandate for the continued protection of Environmentally-Sensitive Habitat Areas, or ESHA, within our Coastal Zone. Protecting ESHA has many implications, from consideration of where and how any new development or land conversion can occur, to determining how public access will be handled, while ensuring that natural areas and wildlife habitat are not compromised.
Watch Out for Exemptions and the Local “Revolving Door”:
As one reviews the current draft of the LCP, one clear crosscutting issue that must be highlighted is that for almost every single provision throughout the modified LCP there would be granted to Permit Sonoma planning staff a very wide margin of discretion in terms of interpretation and implementation.
This staff discretion to waive or alter the parameters of the LCP at will applies to virtually every facet of the document, from preserving ESHA to maintaining appropriate height limits for buildings between Highway One and the ocean to potential expansion of commercial enterprises and even to potential future growth.
Parts of the updated LCP seem to imply that if more water supply and/or wastewater treatment capacity could be added, new expansion of existing town boundaries could then occur, creating a slippery slope for future growth.
This kind of institutionalization of regulatory “wiggle room” in the updated LCP is of particular concern because a new cottage industry has sprung up here in which former Sonoma County employees are aggressively marketing their expensive consulting services and insider personal connections to advise newly-arriving profiteers in circumventing the rules everyone else here locally has long had to live by.
Instead of being overly flexible for those with the money to retain hired gun consultants, the updated LCP needs strong predictability, firm rules and solid growth limits, and should not arbitrarily provide special interests with paid backdoor access to our County planners and decisionmakers.
This applies in particular to consideration of an influx of new event centers and the related inappropriate siting of the wrong kinds of development in the wrong locations, but really, it also extends to virtually every aspect of the LCP.
In other words, the Local Coastal Plan needs to say what it means and then consistently stick to it.
While the revised LCP does not overtly propose that significant large-scale new development be added along the Sonoma Coast anytime soon, transmigration of some of the more concerning aspects of the controversial countywide “General Plan 2020” over into the LCP should not be the preferred option. As one example, the updated LCP draft seems to open the door to conversion of longstanding measures intended to protect commercial fishing-related residential opportunities into unidentified affordable housing that would no longer necessarily be prioritized for fishing families.
Commercial fishing was acknowledged by the drafters of the original LCP as a priority land use in our coastal towns, and should remain so. When the “powers that be” talk about building extensive affordable housing at the coast, we need to first see the specific details about where and how this would occur, lest it all ultimately wind up as just another big vacation rental expansion scheme.