September/October 2015 issue
Proposed New Land Use Rules
for Commercial Events in Residential Areas
Planning Director Kathy Previsich
Supervisor Ryan Coonerty
Land Use Attorney Bill Parkin
Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 7:30 p.m.
Bonny Doon School Multipurpose Room,
Pine Flat Road & Ice Cream Grade
|Proposed Changes for Commercial Events at Your House
On June 9 at the Board of Supervisors’ meeting the Planning Dept. shocked county residents by proposing extensive regulation changes to allow people to use their homes for more and larger commercial events, and eliminating or streamlining the permit process.
They would have, for example, allowed people to rent their houses for up to 12 events a year with up to 25 guests without a permit or informing their neighbors, and even allowed some events of up to 150 people without public notice or comment. “I fear that it will have a terrible impact on the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said Supervisor John Leopold, and apparently the other Supervisors shared his opinion. They quickly voted to send the Planning Dept. back to the drawing board.
“The proposals didn’t meet the spirit or substance of what we had requested,” says Supervisor Ryan Coonerty. “They were too permissive and too complicated.” He had asked for regulation revisions, he says, in order to clarify the rules regarding using residences for events such as weddings. He told The Highlander that the controversy over the Castle House permit to hold weddings, eventually granted under the Home Occupancy Ordinance (which also is being revised), spurred him to try to clarify the rules.
“I want to get commercial events out of residential neighborhoods,” Supervisor Coonerty says, “and make it easier for people to get permits for annual fundraising events for non-profit organizations like the Bonny Doon Art & Wine Festival.”
[The Castle House, on Bonny Doon Road, finally got its permit, but a neighborhood group is suing the County, claiming it misinterpreted the language of the Home Occupancy Ordinance, a position that the RBDA Board agrees with, though we are not involved in the suit.]
In an email, Planning Director Kathy Previsich wrote, “Frankly, staff was drafting regulations without much direction, and the first draft was confusing and overly complicated, and apparently is being perceived as being supportive of commercializing residential areas. This is very much NOT the objective. The new regulations would further restrict these activities, not promote them.”
She and her staff will present a revised set of proposals at our RBDA meeting on Sept. 9. Proposed new regulations for activities and events at wineries and farms, designed to help them promote their businesses and garner more revenue, will also be discussed. It will be the first of similar meetings in each of the five Supervisorial Districts. Supervisor Coonerty will also be on hand.
In addition, we have invited prominent attorney Bill Parkin, who has extensive experience in land use and environmental litigation, and advising and representing government agencies, to share his take on the new proposals. Parkin, a partner in the local law firm Wittwer/Parkin, has represented clients (including the RBDA et al in the Coast Dairies suit) in hearings before state and local government bodies and courts.
The new proposals, incorporating any changes that the Planners feel are important after gathering input at the public meetings, will be presented to the Board of Supervisors at their Sept. 29 meeting. The exact language of the proposals will be published by the previous Friday, Sept. 25, at co.santa-cruz.ca.us/government/boardofsupervisors/meetingagendasandminutes.aspx
Committee to Advise County on Pot Policy
After struggling with the thorny medicinal pot cultivation issue for 3 years, the Board of Supervisors is forming the Cannabis Cultivation Choices Committee (C4), to aid them in developing a policy.
The C4 will be made up of 13 county residents. Each of the five supervisors has selected one person from their district, and there are five members representing marijuana growers’ organizations. The remaining three at-large appointments are to be chosen from people who have knowledge about land use, neighborhood and environmental issues. Eric Olsen, an attorney experienced in facilitating dialog regarding agriculture policy, law, and government, will facilitate the meetings. The committee will operate with full transparency in its discussions to adhere to the Brown Act.
Our Supervisor, Ryan Coonerty, appointed Eric Hoffman, a 42-year resident of Bonny Doon who served 7 years on the Bonny Doon School Board and was an appointee of former County Supervisor Gary Patton to the North Coast Beaches Committee in the l980s. He is an author and magazine writer who has written on a wide range of natural history and environmental issues.
We support Eric’s selection. Along with a group of Dooners he has done a lot of research on the subject and has submitted thoughtful suggestions for County regulations aimed at achieving the objective of allowing responsible cultivation of medical marijuana while also protecting residential neighborhoods.
In a description of the task before the C4, Supervisors Zach Friend and John Leopold wrote: “In order for this committee to be successful, it will require all members to bear in mind and be prepared to collaborate and compromise where necessary in order to develop a set of recommendations that can garner the broadest support possible.”
Hoffman says: “I have every hope the committee will do its best to work together to reach an outcome that takes in the concerns of people living in rural areas, maintains Santa Cruz County’s high environmental standards, and clearly defines how medicinal cannabis will be grown here.”
He encourages people to share their views and comments: email him at BDMtn.Lion@gmail.com.
On Aug. 18 the Supervisors repealed their ban on commercial pot cultivation after growers were successful with a petition drive to put the ban before the voters.
While the C4 works to come up with a consensus on a county policy, six bills are moving through the State legislature, and it is expected that one or more proposals for legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults will be on the 2016 ballot.
Opposition Building to Coast Dairies Monument Status
For the past few months the RBDA has been fighting a rear-guard action to halt the designation of Coast Dairies as a national monument.
The problem, as we see it, is that the risk (of an increased number of visitors, 150,000 or more) will overwhelm the reward (the ability of the land’s owner, the federal Bureau of Land Management, to better manage the property for the protection of its fauna and flora). Those backing the monument designation— principally Sempervirens Fund, which has spent over $100,000 organizing public and political support—minimize that risk, and play up the reward: more money for BLM to build trails and facilities and manage the impacts. Yet they acknowledge that additional money is far from guaranteed and in fact, that the Republican controlled Congress is increasingly reluctant to budget the funds necessary to properly care for federal lands, including national monuments.
Despite not having Sempervirens and its partners’ deep pockets, we have tried to persuade people, and local and federal legislators, that a better idea is for our Congresswoman, Anna Eshoo, to convene a task force of stakeholders—the preserved North Coast property owners, including BLM, State Parks, the County and the conservation groups which own San Vicente Redwoods, local service providers like County Fire, the Bonny Doon Fire Team, and the County Sheriff, and community groups like the RBDA and the Davenport/North Coast Association—to figure out how these magnificent natural treasures can be better managed, coordinate resources, seek funding for already hard-pressed first responders, and minimize impacts on the communities of Davenport, Bonny Doon and Swanton.
To push that idea we have started a web site, http://www.friendsofthenorthcoast.org, a Facebook page, Friends of the North Coast, gathered signatures—almost 600 at last count—on an online petition, http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/coast-dairies-national-monument-not-so-fast, and published an OpEd, http://www.santacruzsentinel.com/opinion/20150801/ted-benhari-coast-dairies-monument-designation-a-no-at-this-time. We also debated the monument’s backers at a special RBDA meeting on June 30 attended by about 150 people.
Still, it is a long shot that we will be successful. The monument campaign’s paid gatherers have collected over 13,000 signatures, at farmers markets, at shopping centers, and on Pacific Avenue, with a simple slogan of More Protection, More Funding, if Coast Dairies becomes a monument. They started the campaign by trying to change its name to Santa Cruz Redwoods, despite the fact that there are few redwoods there, because who could be against protecting redwoods? We were able to persuade the Board of Supervisors to demand that the name, if Coast Dairies becomes a national monument, be Cotoni Coast Dairies, to also honor the Native Americans who lived there for thousands of years.
Recently we asked Fred Keeley, the president of Sempervirens, what additional “protection” monument status would give Coast Dairies, because the property is already protected from environmentally harmful activities in perpetuity by very tight deed restrictions and a Coastal Development Permit. His reply was that the “protection” was the additional funds that BLM might (might!!!) get if it becomes a monument to better manage the property. We have to point out that BLM’s parent agency, the Dept. of Interior, currently has about a $20 billion shortfall in its maintenance budget for the properties it owns, and the regional BLM division has only four rangers to cover the 300,000 acres it manages!
We are disturbed that the Congressional bills to designate Coast Dairies a monument have emphasized the boost to the tourist industry that comes with monument status.
We ask, “Is it worth the risk that, lured by the global barrage of publicity in travel and outdoor recreation media, that many, many thousands of additional visitors on sunny weekends will further clog Highway 1 and Mission Street, that the small residential community of Davenport will be overrun with tourists, and most importantly, that the foxes, badgers, puma, red-legged frog and other animals, some of whom are already endangered, will have their habitat impinged upon and degraded, mainly for the benefit of a few restaurant and hotel owners?”
BLM Rethinks Coast Dairies’ First Trail
Pressured to finally allow some public access by the foundations that very generously donated the majority of the $40 million plus it took to buy Coast Dairies in 1998, BLM Regional Director Rick Cooper has been trying to find a way to do that in the least problematic way. Initially he announced a plan, backed by a brief Environmental Analysis, to put a short hiking trail at the property’s southeast end, using the Laguna Beach parking lot. That ran into criticism from environmentalists who pointed out that the area’s sensitive natural resources hadn’t been adequately studied. Coastal Commission staff weighed in that a more thorough environmental assessment might be in order. Others noted that the beach lot is already overflowing on sunny weekends, and that BLM doesn’t have adequate staff to patrol a trail with unfettered access.
Cooper is now working on a plan to build a parking lot above Highway 1 on the first “bench”, a little north of Laguna Road, and to allow only guided tours. He acknowledges that he will need to do a more complete environmental assessment before the parking lot, access road and trail is constructed. So a little more patience will be required, but most important is that it be done right.
The Land Trust Expands Planned San Vicente Redwoods Trails
Rather than begin access to San Vicente Redwoods with just a short trail running roughly parallel to Empire Grade, the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has decided to open about 10% of the northern portion of the 8,500-acre property to hikers, cyclists and equestrians. Leashed dogs will be allowed on a short trail near the road. Hikers and equestrians will share trails, and bikers will have their own, although hikers will be permitted, though “discouraged,” on the bike trails.
The trailhead and parking area will remain as planned, off Empire about a half-mile southeast of the Ben Lomond prison camp. “The gates will be locked at night, with daytime staffing and nighttime patrols by the Land Trust and our partners,” says the Land Trust’s Bryan Largay.
The Land Trust will hold informational meetings on the new plan this winter, and after public input, will apply for permits, which could take a year or two.
For more information and a map of the proposed trails, go to: www.landtrustsantacruz.org/~SVR_Access_Plan_Update
San Vicente Redwoods is owned by Sempervirens Fund and the Peninsula Open Space Trust, who have contracted with the Land Trust to manage public access. The land was purchased from CEMEX about 2 years ago.
We speculated that at some point Sempervirens and POST would want to turn over the property to a public agency like State Parks or try to join it to Coast Dairies, if it becomes a national monument. In fact, it seemed to us that may be the main reason Sempervirens launched the monument campaign, because historically they have not managed large properties on a long-range basis, which is expensive. But Sempervirens President Fred Keeley says they and POST plan to hold onto San Vicente Redwoods, not least because state and federal agencies are so strapped for funds that they can no longer manage their properties adequately, the woeful deterioration of Coast Dairies State Beaches being a sad example.
Selective periodic timber harvesting will offset some of the costs of caring for the property. The first such harvest has been approved and should begin shortly, in an area near where San Vicente Creek water is drawn off to supply Davenport.
New Board Member
The RBDA Board is pleased to have David Rubin as its newest member. Dave is a geologist in the Earth & Planetary Sciences Dept. at UCSC. He is also a consultant to the federal Dept. of Interior’s Glen Canyon Adaptive Management program, which develops environmental and water policy in the Grand Canyon, balancing the interests of water and power uses, state and federal fish and wildlife agencies, fishing and rafting businesses, environmental organizations, and Native American tribes. One aspect of his work involves environmental restoration, like co-designing experimental restoration floods in the canyon.
“We moved to Bonny Doon almost 16 years ago and joined the RBDA very shortly thereafter,” says Dave. “I've been thankful to have the RBDA taking positions I agree with and working for our community. I volunteered for the RBDA Board to see if I can make a contribution to the RBDA and Bonny Doon.”
Dave is filling out the balance of a 2-year term which expires in January 2017.
Open Space District Moves Ahead
On Aug. 18 the Board of Supervisors gave the go-ahead to a process which could result in an Open Space District (OSD) for Santa Cruz County, an entity which would have taxing authority that would generate funds to maintain and develop existing parks and purchase new properties. New County Parks Director Jeff Gaffney will head the agency.
Responding to fears of Bonny Doon and North Coast residents that the OSD will be able to seize land through eminent domain, the Supervisors all said they don’t want the OSD to have that power, and want it to be guided by their recently approved Working Lands Resolution, which stresses the economic and environmental value of farmland and timberland.
This is the first concrete step in a multi-part, multi-year process. Next the Trust for Public Land will do a feasibility study and present it at public meetings for feedback. Among the issues to be decided are whether the OSD will have its own publicly elected board of directors or if the Supervisors will run it, which they say they don’t want to do, and how tax funds revenues will be raised—a parcel tax or a sales tax are among several options. Any tax will have to be approved by the voters, but some require only a majority rather than a 2/3 super-majority.
At least in its initial years, judging from statements at the Supervisors’ meeting, it seems the OSD will focus on making functional parks out of land which has been acquired or designated but never built because of lack of funds, mostly in the underserved Watsonville and Live Oak areas, and improving other county parks which have been neglected.
North Coast Rail Trail Funded
A 5-mile section of the North Coast portion of the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail Network moved closer to reality in August when the County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) received a grant of $6.3 million.
The Federal Highway Administration grant will be used for design, environmental review and trail construction from the Wilder Ranch parking lot to a spot 4/10ths of a mile north of Laguna Road. The plan is to build a parking lot in the vicinity of Yellow Bank and Panther beaches, for people to access the trail from the north. This is near the area BLM is now targeting for the first trailhead on Coast Dairies.
The Federal Lands Highway Division will build the 5-mile Rail Trail segment along the former Union Pacific tracks starting in fall 2018. Projected cost is $10.5 million. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County has pledged to come up with $3 million, the lion’s share of the difference between the $6.3 million FHA grant and the total cost. The California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, will kick in $950,000 and the RTC $300,000.
While we applaud the recreational opportunities the North Coast Rail Trail will provide, we are greatly concerned by the potential for increased visitation to beaches that are already suffering from State Parks’ inability to patrol and steward them. The spectacular Panther Beach has been particularly devastated by graffiti and garbage, including whole and broken beer bottles from illegal partiers and campers (alcohol consumption and camping is prohibited). State Parks has a shortage of rangers, and is reluctant to patrol at night any beach that can only be accessed on foot. The trail will also enable more visitation to Coast Dairies. BLM, with its own problem of inadequate resources, will have trouble coping, especially if Coast Dairies is designated a national monument.
The RTC plans to try to someday operate a train on the tracks. We are not sure that is a good idea. It is hugely expensive, and it is uncertain how many people would use it. Cyclists and hikers sharing the path with trains can be dangerous, as can the crossings at every block through Santa Cruz, and the required warning whistle blasts will be loudly intrusive.
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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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Coast Dairies, photo by Ted Benhari