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Sonoma County Gazette
Sonoma Coast State Park Duncans Landing. Photo:
Sonoma Coast State Park Duncans Landing. Photo:

OPINION: Sonoma Coast in Peril

Compared to previous Local Coastal Plans, 
ESHA categories had been reduced from 3 to 1, 
excluding areas of future potentially sensitive habitat.

Nov 26, 2019


By Laura Morgan

Anyone who has experienced the magic of the Sonoma County Coast would be horrified to think that it could be lost. And yet, that is the plan. The Local Coastal Plan 20-year plan, that is. 

On Sunday, November 17th, a public workshop hosted by the aptly named Permit Sonoma revealed the extent to which developers have gone in their quest to profit from one of the last natural resources left in the county—the beauty of our coast. 

We must protect our coast from developers in their quest to profit from one of the last natural resources left in the county — the beauty of our coast.Because the coast is so precious to me, I attended the workshop and took notes, which are excerpted here:

The meeting was presided over by Cecily Condon and two other PRMD Planner-IIIs, Gary Helfrich, (transportation specialist) and Jane Riley (housing specialist). 

There was a powerpoint presentation, an accompanying explanation by Cecily and then about an hour of questions and answers. Many questions were posed by about 10 of the 40-or-so attendees, primarily regarding the notable absence of maps and detailed information regarding Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) as well as ambiguous policy language in the draft.

Cecily acknowledged that readily-available scientific recommendations had not been incorporated in the draft since 2008. She acknowledged that compared to previous Local Coastal Plans, ESHA categories had been reduced from 3 to 1, completely excluding areas of future potentially sensitive habitat.  She confirmed that no detailed ESHA maps were available except by going in person to the PRMD office to view the single map they have there, despite the fact that the county has access to Geographic Information System mapping and could easily provide them or include them in the Update.

Cecily also acknowledged that no other entities of coastal governance had been consulted in the writing of the draft (eg, no representation from State or Regional Parks or the Marine Sanctuary), nor the California Coastal Conservancy, nor the non-profits that have been educating the public at large for decades (eg, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, Landpaths, Surfrider, etc), particularly school children and underserved youth, and which sponsor beneficial coastal events such as marine debris clean-ups. She acknowledged that the Coastal Resiliency Program developed by the Marine Sanctuary had not been consulted, despite the availability of their published, free, up-to-date, best practices guidelines for coastal land management.

It was acknowledged that there is no mention of carbon sequestration or climate change in general in the LCP draft, save for sea level rise. There is no mention of fuel reduction plans for future fire prevention, no mention of documented migratory bird flyways or resting habitat, no statement of support for the preservation of open space, no policy re: hemp/cannabis cultivation, no mention of offshore or onshore oil drilling issues or policies.

Waves on pacific Coast. Photo: - CC0 Public Domain

There is a new concept of "workforce housing combining zones" being discussed with regard to future coastal housing development, in which industry employees' housing will be constructed near their place of work. But there was no discussion of prioritizing affordable housing, particularly for the fishing community and service workers in general, or the fact that 53% of total housing on the coast is vacation rentals. Nor any mention in the Plan draft that the population of the coast swells by thousands on the weekends, overwhelming Highway 1 and public services like emergency response teams.

But the main concern for me was ambiguous language in the draft re: a "principle permitted use", which defines the type of permit required for any sort of development (including events like marathons), the level of review required, the potential for public input and whether it is appealable to the California Coastal Commission. The details of how this concept will be applied is embedded in the new "Administrative Manual" which is supposed to be already included in the LCP draft in some form (in appendices? Under guidelines??). This was not clarified during the meeting. 

The Revised Workshop Materials "fact sheets" released on Permit Sonoma's website 2 days prior mentions this new concept of "principle permitted use" and specifies that there will be a whole other round of zoning negotiations with the public after the Local Coastal Plan is approved and that zoning designations will not be appealable to the California Coastal Commission once they have been approved at the county level.

If anyone remembers the attempt by the county to win approval for the Local Coastal Plan Update when it was first released in 2015, you will recall that a standing-room-only contingent of coastal residents squashed that draft at a little-publicized special meeting held by public demand at the Timber Cove Volunteer Fire Department. This new draft has not changed much, save for the uninterpretable smoke and mirrors included in policy language for the obvious benefit of developers.  

The County of Sonoma is charged by the California Coastal Act to deliver an updated Local Coastal Plan to the California Coastal Commission by the end of 2020. The general public of Sonoma County is likewise mandated to participate in its creation and approval.

If you have a coastal bone in your body, please stand it up. 

Do your best to read even a small portion of the draft online at Permit Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan Update or ask your local library for a hard copy. See what you think about the vague policy language at the end of the section on Open Space and Resource Conservation, which, at least to me, overturns all the wonderful protective sentiments expressed in the first part of the section.

Then raise your own groundswell of concerned friends and attend the next public workshop at the Bodega Bay Fire Station on Saturday, December 14th, from 10-12. 

Or send an e-mail to ,  with copies to all the other supervisors,  (the California Coastal Commission's Sonoma County liaison). 

We have a short time-line to stop this development tsunami.



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