With all the daily national drama and soap opera shenanigans of our administration, from near-naked tweets to daily indictments, it’s easy to lose focus on some of the pressing local issues. But if there was ever a time to pay attention to the local, the time is now.
Sonoma County lovers of the coast need to know that local officials are drafting plans for the future of our coast that prioritize corporate and development profits over public safety and environmental preservation. The Local Coastal Plan (LCP) update in is the works, and public input is needed to ensure our beloved coast continues to be protected.
Public meetings are starting to be held and if you care about the coast, please plan to show up. Here’s why. At the recent meeting in Sea Ranch, Permit Sonoma’s planner acknowledged that a number of important coastal and non-profit stakeholders were not consulted about the plan. That means that the Permit department missed the opportunity for input and expertise from other coastal governing entities such as State Parks and National Marine Sanctuary. Likewise excluded were our local non-profits such as Surfrider Foundation, Sonoma Land Trust and Bodega Land Trust. Most importantly, the Marine Sanctuary’s guidelines for coastal land management were not included, despite previous collaboration on this with the county. Without input from these important stakeholders, the new LCP will only reflect the revisions of planning staff and connected commercial interests. Provisions for tourist facilities and tasting rooms on Highway 1 are already in the draft!
Plus, there is no mention of climate change issues, such as carbon sequestration or forestry practices to reduce fire fuels. There is no mention of hemp cultivation. (Cannabis is prohibited.) The ambiguous phrase “principally permitted use” which allows for ultimate discretion of the planner about what permits might be issued and what level of review would be required, appears frighteningly frequently in the document. This type of language embeds a permanent loophole for the planning department to do whatever they want or are pressured to do by development interests. This is unacceptable.
Included also is a new concept of “workforce housing combining zones,” as part of coastal housing development, without any details; just more ambiguity that the planners will clarify for us, without our ability for appeal. All of us should be alarmed that the current concept of “principally permitted use” specified on the Permit Sonoma’s website states that zoning designations will not be appealable to the California Coastal Commission once approved at the county level. So the planners will designate, and we will have no appeal to higher authorities.
When coastal counties drafted their coastal plans in the past, they were stand-alone documents, independent of the General Plan. When asked why the revisions to the LCP were drafted using the General Plan as a template and language guide, the planner replied, “That’s how everybody does these nowadays.” The preamble to the current LCP describes the Sonoma Coastal region as “a distinct and valuable natural resource of vital and enduring interest … a delicately balanced ecosystem … that the permanent protection of the natural and scenic resources is a paramount concern to the present and future residents”. “How everybody does it nowadays” is not how a unique and precious place should be treated.
I would ask the board of supervisors to send this flawed draft back to Permit Sonoma to start again, using the lens of “protection” rather than that of “development,” asking Permit Sonoma to engage the more knowledgeable stakeholders in our community. The current draft revision is an insult to our coast and an insult to those who cherish it.
The County is hosting public workshops and your voice is needed to protect our coast. The next workshop in Bodega is on Dec. 14. Visit LocalCoastalPlan.org for future workshop dates and locations. A small group of concerned residents are working hard to suggest protective language, but wider public participation is necessary.
Reuben Weinzveg, retired CPA, is the treasurer of Neighbors to Preserve Rural Sonoma County and past president of the Sonoma Land Trust, formerly treasurer of the Community Foundation of Sonoma County and a longtime resident of the county.