No RBDA Meeting in July
Next Meeting will be on September 24th
Coast Dairies, San Vicente Redwoods
Bureau of Land Management
Land Trust of Santa Cruz County
Next Meeting: September 24, 2014, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade
From the bottom of Warrenella Road in Davenport, you can gaze longingly upward at the San Vicente Redwoods. Photo: Ted Benhari
2015 Opening for Coast Dairies, 2016 for San Vicente Redwoods
Sometime in early 2015 the 6,000 inland acres of Coast Dairies should finally be open for limited public use, followed the next year by the adjacent and newly renamed 8,500-acre San Vicente Redwoods property (née Cemex Redwoods).
Centered in the middle of Wilder/Gray Whale Ranch, UCSC North Campus, and Henry Cowell and Fall Creek State Parks, Bonny Doon could well become a hiking, biking and equestrian mecca. This bounty of natural richness is wonderful for people who love outdoor activities, as many Dooners do, but it also will bring thousands of people a year from Santa Cruz and surrounding counties to the Dooniverse, with the attendant problems of traffic, noise, litter and fire danger. Those are challenges that the various owners of the properties, plus law enforcement and fire officials, will have to respond to.
At an RBDA meeting on September 24 Rick Cooper, Hollister Field Office Manager for the federal Bureau of Land Management, which acquired Coast Dairies in April, and Bryan Largay of the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, who is spearheading the planning for opening San Vicente Redwoods, will talk about plans for the two stupendous properties, which rise deeply into Bonny Doon.
[Note that we moved the regular date of the September meeting, which would have been Sept. 10, back by two weeks when we learned that the Land Trust has scheduled that date for its next meeting to discuss plans for public access to San Vicente Redwoods. That will take place at the Paradox Hotel on Ocean Street in Santa Cruz at 6 p.m.]
Right now, says Rick Cooper, the BLM is considering beginning with two trails on Coast Dairies. One trailhead would be somewhere near lower Bonny Doon Road and follow an old road up through the Liddell Creek drainage area, and the other would be off Swanton Road in the Molino Creek area. He says it will take at least six or seven months before that can happen in order to develop suitable parking areas and ensure that the trails don’t interfere with current operations at the property, which are cattle grazing and Cemex reclamation work.
Next year, Rick says, BLM will begin developing a comprehensive long-term management plan that will conform with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The work will all be done by BLM experts and staff and there will be opportunities for public input.
Meanwhile, Sempervirens Fund Executive Director Reed Holderman is pushing for Coast Dairies to be named a national monument, and will soon be launching a campaign to “determine whether or not the local community would support a national monument designation of Coast Dairies after they have been briefed on the advantages and potential disadvantages of this designation.”
Control of the San Vicente Redwoods property is more complex, with four private conservation agencies involved. Bryan Largay said it is most likely the Land Trust will manage public access, although Save the Redwoods League has legal control of those activities. The two other agencies involved, Sempervirens Fund and Peninsula Open Space Trust, are in charge of overall management and handling road development and maintenance, habitat conservation and restoration and sustainable timber harvesting.
According to Bryan, in August the Land Trust will release a draft plan for San Vicente Redwoods for community review and then discussion at the Sept. 10 meeting and afterward. A final plan will be published towards year’s end, he told us at a meeting in late June. It will contain two phases. Phase 1 will likely be the opening of a trail in the upper area off Empire Grade, near Braemoor, with a parking lot shielded by vegetation from the road, in 2016. Phase 2 will probably involve extending the trail in that area and then down to the coastal hills, where access will likely be through Coast Dairies. That plan will have to be approved by Santa Cruz County, the California Coastal Commission and some state and federal agencies. “Our mindset is to be aggressive with public behavior,” Largay said, with rules likely enforced by a combination of private security and Sheriff’s Deputies paid by the Land Trust to patrol during off-duty hours. In the meantime, it is important to remember that currently there is no public access to the land, and trespassing is illegal.
Event Center Headed for Hearing
It seems that a decision may finally be made this summer on whether weddings and luncheons will be permitted at the Castle House, owned by the Sabankaya family, although no hearing has yet been scheduled.
The controversial proposal has attracted a large number of letters and emails to the Planning Dept., running about 2 to 1 against approval. The distinctive dwelling at 4286 Bonny Doon Road is in a Rural Residential Zone, where permits to run a commercial event center are considered discretionary, that is, they are only allowed after approval at a public hearing. Because of the amount of attention the Sabankaya proposal has generated, the Planning Dept. staff has decided that the hearing on the application will be conducted by the Planning Commission, rather than the Zoning Administrator.
The Sabankayas began advertising the home as a wedding venue a couple of years ago, and hosted a few weddings. This raised the ire of a number of neighbors who reported the unpermitted activity to the Planning Dept. and gathered signatures on a petition opposing it.
Last year Teresa Sabankaya applied for permits to legalize the activities, asking for a permit for up to 12 weddings a year, with up to 100 guests, and lasting until as late as 10 p.m., as well as luncheon workshops to teach flower arranging.
For several years she has been running a flower arranging business there, which is a permitted activity and hasn’t attracted opposition. But the weddings aroused the ire of neighbors whose tranquility was disturbed.
Faced with opposition to their proposal, the Sabankayas have scaled back their application and now seek permission to host only four small weddings or similar events a year, each ending by 7 p.m., with a maximum of 49 guests and 10 vehicles parked on site. A shuttle is proposed to transport some or all of the guests.
The Planning Dept. staff has recommended that the Sabankayas be required to minimize the lighting and visual impacts through various means, including shielding landscaping, and ensure that noise at the property limits maxes out at 75 decibels.
Nevertheless, while we appreciate that the Sabankayas have taken steps to reduce the impact of their proposal on the neighborhood and community, the RBDA Board continues to oppose permitting commercial weddings and other commercial events at the site. Whatever the size and number, we are against allowing ongoing commercial events in residential areas of Bonny Doon.
We don’t feel that it is fair that the quality of life and property values of neighbors should be negatively impacted or ruined for another property owner’s economic benefit. We are also concerned about traffic and safety issues posed by inebriated celebrants. There are many areas of the county where event centers are a permitted use that don’t require discretionary permits. If someone wants to make a living from such a business, they should buy or lease a property there, not in a residential neighborhood where people have invested their dreams and hard-earned dollars and hours of work with the expectation that commercial activity (outside of small home-based occupations) will be prohibited.
Permitting this event center would set a precedent and make it much harder to justify denying other similar projects if they are proposed. In addition, limits on the number, size, hours and conditions of events realistically will not—and probably cannot—be monitored by the Planning Dept. That forces the neighbors to play spy, counting guests or vehicles or numbers of events to ensure adherence to the conditions of the permit. This is an unfair, unreasonable and uncomfortable burden to force on neighborhood residents.
Pond Problems Holding up New Winery
Concerns about the integrity of an 8,000 square foot pond perched above Majors Creek have halted progress on an application to construct a small winery on an 82-acre property at 1495 Smith Grade, which we wrote about in the March 2014 Highlander.
The main problem, according to the staff report, is that the pond was not built in accordance with engineering standards. The staff fear that its steep retaining walls could fail and pour sediment into Majors Creek, a source of Santa Cruz City drinking water and home to endangered Coho salmon. According to Planner Robin Bolster-Grant, the City Water Dept. is following developments closely.
The staff has demanded that either the pond be rebuilt to specifications recommended by a structural engineer, or that a structural engineer guarantee the integrity of the pond’s walls as built. After four years of dialog with planners, the property owners, the Paisleys, have now submitted a grading plan drawn up by an engineer for Planning staff review.
The next step will be completion of an initial study by Planning staff to determine if an Environmental Impact Report is needed. The study will look at possible impacts on the watershed, biotic resources, geology and some other areas. If any significant impacts are identified that can’t be mitigated, the EIR will be required.
Since 2010 the Paisleys have been trying to obtain a permit for a 1,000 to 20,000 gallon a year family operated winery, and to legalize the pond, a 4,100 square foot house, and a 996 square foot second dwelling unit, all of which were constructed without permits. They currently operate a vineyard on the property.
If the winery application is approved the property owners will have to widen the lengthy driveway to the proposed winery location to 20 feet, which is required for commercial operations by County code.
A Zoning Administrator hearing on the application is scheduled for Aug. 15, but Planner Bolster-Grant says it will be mainly informational and that no decision on the application is likely to be made at that time.
I Was Stoned and I Missed It
Residents of the Upper Summit Road neighborhood of Bonny Doon have been victimized by a series of errors by the County Planning Dept., which mistakenly allowed a property owner on Patrick Lane to clear a large portion of his forested two-plus acre parcel. The residents were even more upset once the trees were gone when they were reportedly told by workers on the property that it was to be used to grow medicinal marijuana, which is not permitted on parcels under five acres in Rural Residential zones.
Seeing the trees fall, the neighbors contacted CalFire, the agency which controls timber permits. CalFire notified the owner that as long as the cut trees were not sold all that was needed was an approved exemption from the permit requirement. CalFire must clear the exemption with the County before approving it.
The County goes along with the exemption as long as the property has an approved building permit, or, in a Rural Residential zone, there is an existing residential structure on the parcel and the owner wants to clear land for a garden. Somehow, in this case, the staff planner assigned to review the exemption for some unknown reason granted approval for a conversion for “light agriculture and recreation” without any existing or proposed legal dwelling. CalFire’s Santa Rosa office granted approval and the cutting of over an acre of oaks and Douglas firs continued. Stumps were removed, the property was graded and a 6’ tall fence was erected.
That’s when neighbors reported workers at the site told them that it was to be a pot farm. Besides the zoning problem, there appear to be several other violations of the County’s new medical marijuana ordinance, passed last February.
After being contacted by more neighbors, the Rural Bonny Doon Association and CalFire, the County and CalFire met to discuss how this snafu occurred and to ensure that such errors do not occur again, and County Code Compliance officers informed the property owner, who lives in Los Angeles, that commercial medical marijuana cultivation is not allowed there. Since nothing has been planted, no notices of violations have been issued.
The public’s increasing acceptance of marijuana use is forcing authorities in areas where it has become legal to scramble to come up with laws that allow people access to pot yet still avoid (to the extent possible) any problems it may create, including thefts, impaired driving, illegal or excess water use, and harm to minors.
Our own Board of Supervisors’ recent legislation is a good first attempt to regulate medicinal marijuana cultivation here, but needs refinements. What are your thoughts and concerns about this evolving situation?
The Drought and Bonny Doon Water
After what has been deemed the driest water year (July 1-June 30) in Santa Cruz history, with some exceptions Bonny Doon wells still seem to be functioning as usual.
According to those closest to the situation, driller Aaron Lingemann of Earth Flow Drilling and Tom and Justin Robinson of Tom’s Well Service, except for landowners who are drawing from surface water sources—streams and springs—the record low rainfall has not yet affected water yields of most wells in Bonny Doon.
However, Justin says that they have been responding to many calls from landowners about water problems. He says that nearly all of them result from equipment failures, some of which are caused by increased mineralization. He surmises that reduced water flows into the wells may be responsible for decreased dilution of the water. “We’re finding that pumps we used to service on a three-year cycle we’re now having to service every two years,” he says.
Tom Robinson says that so many people now have storage tanks that they don’t notice subtle changes in well production volumes. To provide more accurate information on well production and water use, he and Justin have been installing a recently introduced device that measures tank volumes and sends data via a radio signal every quarter hour to a device in the home, so that the landowner can instantly see a graphic of water consumption over time.
They’ve also been doing a lot of water quality testing and installing protection devices to keep well pumps from burning up if water levels drop.
Justin’s advice to landowners during the drought to save them the cost of service visits: “If you do nothing else become conscious of how your system works so you don’t have to make panic calls when your water is out. Often it is just a pressure switch or another mechanical or electrical problem.”
Aaron Lingemann, the third generation Bonny Doon family member to operate Earthflow Drilling, says he has been called in to deepen some wells, but they have been wells that historically have produced only marginally. He doesn’t think that the problems are drought related.
Hopefully the El Niño effect now building in the Pacific (increased ocean temperatures) will bring us abundant rainfall next rainy season, before the situation is dire.
Newest Member of RBDA Board
Betsy Firebaugh has joined the RBDA Board, filling one of the two vacant positions. She will serve as Corresponding Secretary.
Betsy has lived in Bonny Doon for 15 years with her husband, Andy, whose family roots in Santa Cruz go back to the late 1800s. She works as a business/technology analyst. Betsy was very active in Friends of Lighthouse Field, serving five years as chairwoman and helping to improve facilities and conditions there. She writes, “As Chair, I worked closely with City Council members, County representatives, State and local park representatives and State elected officials and agency directors to ensure that the local community was represented and opinions heard.”
We are looking forward to working with Betsy and thank her for stepping up. As per our Bylaws, she will have to be elected by the RBDA members at the January RBDA Annual meeting to continue serving.
We still have one more board seat to fill. Serving on the board can be rewarding, educational, a satisfying way to help preserve our Bonny Doon environment and lifestyle, and entertaining. If you are an RBDA member, write to us at email@example.com to find out what is involved.
Val Haley Retiring from Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve
Just as we were going to press we were told by Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve Volunteers Coordinator Val Haley she is giving up her post of 21 years because of her “work load and physical problems.”
No one has had more to do with the success of the BDER than Val, a botanist, who has devoted thousands of hours to the care of our precious biotic resource.
In her email to BDER manager Terris Kasteen of California Fish & Wildlife, Val offered to keep on conducting nature walks and with setting up an informational kiosk.
Lone Star Peak, Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve - Photo by Dylan Neubauer 2011
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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