Speaker from the Santa Cruz Chapter, American Red Cross
Ready or not, here it comes!
Your Legal Rights vs. PG&E
RBDA Meeting, Wednesday, November
10, 7:30 p.m
|PG&E, Y2K, Floods and Earthquakes:
Are You Ready for the Next Disaster?
Ironic, isn't it, that just when computers seem as natural and ubiquitous
as houseplants, they they might leap up and kick us as nastily as Mother
Nature? Preparing for this possible human-made disaster is similar
to the preparation for earthquakes and winter floods. On Wednesday, Nov.
10, a speaker from the Red Cross will be on hand at the RBDA meeting to
discuss what we should be doing to get ready for anything that Mother Nature
or our cyberworld has in store.
Just as timely is the disaster created by a combination of nature and humans: the massive tree cutting conducted by PG&E in Bonny Doon. Unfortunately, efforts to slow down PG&E's feverish rush to judgment of every tree within hailing distance of its main transmission line have so far gone nowhere. But there is some hope. Attorney Christopher Dort of the real estate law firm Burton Volkmann and Schmal LLP is researching what legal levers property owners have to minimize the electric utility's blighting of Bonny Doon. He will be at the RBDA meeting to reveal the results of his efforts, and answer your questions. Hopefully, he will come up with something to give us a weapon or two in what until now has been pretty much a one-sided fight.
Ignoring Public Utility Commission (PUC) safety guidelines, right-of-way limits, sound forestry practices, and the concerns of Bonny Doon residents, PG&E is taking down hundreds of trees in the Molina-Robles-Conifer-Vick neighborhood.
And this is just the beginning. PG&E next will attack the area just south of that, along Atherly, Pine Flat, and Bonny Doon Road, through which its 60,000 volt transmission line passes. (A second branch of that line heads down Verde.) Then it's on to the RMC Pacific Aggregates’ (the new name for RMC Lonestar) properties as the line heads down to Davenport. PG&E was stung by hundreds of millions in fines after power was interrupted and fires were caused by trees falling on the lines 2 winters ago. It seems that for years PG&E didn't do enough to protect its lines. Now it is determined to make up for this neglect with a massive tree removal and trimming program that will result in clearcutting a swath through Bonny Doon that ranges from 40 to 100 feet or more wide. They have already cut trees that appear perfectly healthy that are as far as 90 feet away from the line. The PUC only requires vegetation to be kept 4 feet from these lines, plus the "envelope" in which they sway and sag, which is seldom more than another 20 feet, and usually much less.
We are extremely concerned with reducing fire danger and power outages, but what PG&E is doing, and their methods, goes way beyond what is necessary. Here’s the scenario: First, PG&E intimidates property owners to acquiesce by telling them they will be liable for unlimited damages if fires or personal losses are caused by trees that PG&E wanted to cut. Then the utility goes in and takes out any tree, in their right-of-way or not, that their field representatives think may pose a danger, even if that danger won't be manifested for many years into the future. Finally, they apply herbicide to the stumps.
PG&E would rather, for efficiency purposes, do all the cutting they can now, regardless of the effect on the neighborhoods. They are also under pressure to get as much work done as possible before it rains. In a way, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because clearcutting opens the bordering trees up to disease, wind and storm damage, especially if their limbs have been trimmed, often wantonly, and their root systems damaged by the removal of neighboring trees.
The utility says they will plant new trees and shrubs in 5- to 15-gallon pots in their right-of-way, which varies between 40 and 100 or so feet from parcel to parcel. (Note that the lines don't always go down the middle of the right-of-way). These plants will max out at less than 30 or so feet, so they won't endanger the lines.
At a couple of meetings facilitated by Assemblyman Fred Keeley's field representative, Reed Addis, PG&E reluctantly agreed to give the residents in the Conifer-Robles etc. neighborhood copies of their internal policy for cutting and trimming trees and allow them another opportunity to agree to which trees would be cut. However, they declined to share those guidelines with property owners in the next areas to be cut. We are planning to post those guidelines on our Web site, www.bonnydoon.got.net. In between meetings, PG&E agreed to halt the cutting except for one property. Somehow, that never got transmitted to the field crews, who proceeded to chainsaw two other properties.
That faulty line of communication seems to be one of the problems in dealing with PG&E. Different departments have different agendas, and the internal pressures to accomplish the corporate goal override any particular PG&E employee's qualms about what he or she is doing. They also employ a wide mix of employees and independent contractors to carry out the work, with the expected results. Each forester has his own criteria for determining whether a tree needs to be cut or trimmed, and there is little oversight by PG&E project managers unless the property owner complains. Often and loudly, and still that may not be enough.
A large portion of upcoming cuts are in the coastal zone, so there will be a chance for public input when PG&E applies for the permits. (It originally intended to proceed without them, until Supervisor Mardi Wormhoudt blew the whistle.) We'll keep you apprised via the Highlander or our Web site about when that will be.
You can also get more information by contacting David Gelphman, a Molina Way resident who has been instrumental in trying to rein PG&E in, at 426-3114, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Minute News on Felton Quarry Hearing
The Planning Commission has rescheduled a hearing on Granite Construction's application to increase night operations at the Felton Quarry from 20 to 40 nights for Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 9 a.m. at the County Building. Call 454-3210 to confirm before attending. Quarry neighbors are upset about the noise and fumes from the asphalt. And all of Bonny Doon is affected by the huge double dump trucks rolling along Empire Grade late into the night.
Coast Dairies Management Plan Fogs Up
After pressure from mountain bikers, surfers and other groups who felt left out of the advisory group on the Coast Dairies and Land management plan, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) decided to open the group to anyone who wants to participate.
Decisions about what activities will be permitted on the gorgeous 7,000 coastal acres will be made by 3 land conservancies (TPL, the Save the Redwoods League and the Land Trust of Santa Cruz County). It was already unclear whether the advisory group would have any meaningful influence. By opening it up, rather than limiting it to organizations with a clear constituency, the advisory group's role becomes much more muddled. Admittedly, it would have been very difficult for TPL to decide whom to exclude. They are hoping that the group will at least come up with meaningful ideas for the steering committee to consider. TPL hopes to have the management plan completed by August 2001. The first step is to assess the property's resources, existing leases and historical uses. then identify areas that need to be protected or restored and those that can be used for recreational, agricultural and other activities.
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Goat Pharm Told to Contain Wastes
Over the past two rainy seasons, water samples taken from streams that run through the Santa Cruz Biotechnology goat pharm have shown levels of fecal coliform contamination up to 450 times the level local and state authorities consider "unsafe for human contact."
Goat barns, feedlots and manure piles have been constructed on sloping ground directly above riparian corridors, so that when storm water runs off, manure is carried downstream. The runoff flows through yards and driveways of families living directly below the SCBI property. Hikers on adjacent Wilder Ranch State Park, or surfers in the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary below the site, may also be at risk.
With the next rainy season rapidly approaching, it is important that this problem be dealt with right away.
On October 22 the California Regional Water Quality Control Board (RWQCB) issued an order to SCBI to keep all goat manure contained on its own property and not let it run off into local waterways and aquifers. SCBI must monitor its own wells and those of neighbors, and the RWQCB will conduct spot checks of its own.
Some of the solutions thus far approved by the Board of Supervisors include the relocation of pens and manure piles away from riparian corridors, limiting the spreading of manure onto pastures to the dry season, and the development of vegetative swales to help filter manure out of water running into the streams.
Will Supervisors Say Nay to Biotech "Horse" Barn?
The Planning Commission's approval of Santa Cruz Biotechnology's "horse" barn was appealed to the Board of Supervisors, who heard it on October 26, just after this Highlander went to press.
[NOTE: The supervisors decided on Oct. 26 to put off their consideration of the appeal until the 1st of February, pending a report from the county Environmental Coordinator on whether the nature of the proposed barn complex warranted including it in the environmental review of the entire goat pharm development now underway.]
The most serious problem with this 32-foot high, 8,000 square-foot "horse" barn, (assertedly for 8 family horses), which will be highly visible from Wilder Ranch State Park, is that it opens the door to third and fourth clusters of goat facilities proposed to be developed on the upper terrace of SCBI's property.
Next to it, SCBI plans four more 10,000 square-foot barns, a 4000 square-foot support facility building and a caretaker's house. The infrastructure necessary for the goat facility Master Plan expansion, including electricity, roadways, parking areas, water storage for fire suppression, water lines, etc., has been included in the approval for the "horse" barn. Since this "horse" barn is only a piece of the larger project, the approval results in project splitting, which is a violation of CEQA, the California Environmental Quality Act. According to critics and CEQA experts, this "sets the stage for future development on the upper terrace."
The county's Environmental Coordinator has already determined the need for an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) on the Master Plan. The cumulative impacts of the "horse" barn and those of the Master Plan for the goat operation should, logically, be reviewed together.
Phony Affordable Housing Ordinance Unmasked
Yeah, those crazy progressives on the Board of Supervisors did it again, turned their noses up at $4 million bucks a year that could have been used for affordable housing, just to keep Santa Cruz County an exclusive playground for wealthy Silicon Valley gazillionaires. At least, that's the way it would seem to anyone reading the Sentinel's story about the 3 to 2 vote on Oct. 20 that turned down state required changes to the county General Plan. These changes would have greatly increased potential densities in the unincorporated areas, abandoned the county's growth control policies, and done little to provide housing for low income families. The crazy progressives, in this case, turned out to be Mardi Wormhoudt, Jan Beautz and. . .Walt Symons!
Someone managed to hoodwink affordable housing advocates, and the Sentinel reporter, into thinking that this $4 million fund pot was due the county every year if there were a few minor adjustments to the General Plan. The truth is, $4 million is what the legislature allocates each year for low income housing grants, and infrastructure, for the whole state! And to get any piece of that, counties must compete with each other. There was absolutely no guarantee that Santa Cruz would get any money in any given year. We don't argue the need for affordable housing. But there are better solutions available. This ordinance was an impostor serving only hidden political agendas.
But believe the Sentinel if you want.
Helicopter Logging May Fly Again
With the county's emergency ordinance banning helicopter logging now expired, the specter of loud, huge choppers bearing gigantic trees once again haunts the Santa Cruz Mountains, including Bonny Doon. Last month the Malosky Creek timber harvest plan (THP), on the eastern slopes of Empire Grade, was resubmitted, then withdrawn in the face of resident opposition.
The Malosky Creek plan was first submitted to the California Department of Forestry (CDF) in 1997. They wanted to chopper the logs to a site on Alba Road, then down Empire Grade. Problems with the site halted the plan, then the temporary helicopter ban went into effect.
Residents are concerned that the proposed new landing and service sites are too close to homes, and that the shipping and storing of aviation fuel poses a fire and well water contamination risk. They also fear damage to local roads and increased risk of landslides and creek siltation during the winter rains.
For an update on when and if the THP is resubmitted, call 429-2200 or log on to www.linebyline.com/trees.
Hearing on Logging Ordinances
In September the state Board of Forestry shot down the county Board of Supervisors’ request for rules changes that would reduce logging's impact on neighborhoods and the environment. Now, the supervisors are set to fall back on their own ordinances which would control where trees can be cut. On Tuesday, Nov. 9, in the afternoon session (1:30 pm, County Building, 701 Ocean Street, 5th Floor), the supervisors will vote on implementing the zoning changes after taking public testimony.
The RBDA board generally supports the ordinances, which would better protect neighborhoods and streams. We worry that the proposed law residential buffer zone is too general. We'd like to see it made more specific so people may cut trees if it can be done without impacting their neighbors, waterways or wildlife.
You can call the Board Clerk at 454-2323 to verify the Nov. 9 meeting agenda and times. Or check the agenda online here. ____________________
The RBDA Needs You
Look at what Bonny Doon is facing right now: RMC quarry expansion, PG&E's disastrous tree cutting, the consequences of the poorly thought out second unit ordinance, helicopter logging plans, extended hours at the Felton quarry, explosive growth at the Santa Cruz Biotech goat pharm, and an events facility at the Redwood Meadows Ranch.
The RBDA needs your support, through your membership and letter writing, and we need people on our executive board who are willing to be on the front lines of the battle to keep our community rural and natural. If you are interested contact one of the board members below. There are three seats that will be voted on at the January 12 RBDA meeting. Terms are for two years.
Bonny Doon's voice in preserving our special quality of life, The Highlander,
is mailed free prior to the RBDA General Meetings, which are usually held
the second Wednesdays of January, March, May, July, September and November.
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