Supes to Vote on Coast Dairies National Monument

By Eric Johnson and Traci Hukill

April 20, 2015—The idea of turning 5,800-plus acres on Santa Cruz’s North Coast into a national monument has captured the imagination of many locals from the moment the school-kids sang “This Land Is Your Land” during the monument campaign kickoff at Kaiser Permanente Arena in February.

Since a drive formally started a few weeks ago, almost 5,000 people have signed the petition to be sent to President Obama supporting national monument designation for the Coast Dairies property. Steve Reed, chairman of the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument Campaign, says he and his crew have been making presentations at Rotary Clubs and other service clubs, places of worship, high schools, bike community meetings, at school boards and chambers of commerce—and that the idea’s been received with almost universal enthusiasm.

“It’s been nothing but delighted support and expressions of gratitude that we’re doing this,” says Reed.

Tuesday, April 21, the campaign hopes the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors will approve a resolution in support of the monument.

Campaign outreach coordinator Laura Kasa echoes Reed. “I would say it’s been 95 percent positive feedback,” she says. “People think this is a very cool campaign, and for the most part people are really supportive. They’re excited about the opportunity to have the property protected, number one, and also have it accessible—being able to go there.”

That accessibility and the crowds it will inevitably draw is a serious concern to the people who will be most impacted by the national monument designation—members of the communities of Davenport and Bonny Doon. The "three T’s"—trash, traffic and trauma—come up often in conversations about the monument.

Rachael Spencer, who sits on the board of the Davenport North Coast Association, is deeply concerned about what she calls the “collateral damage” of national monument designation.

“This isn’t about the national monument itself, but the national monument will put this place on the map,” she says. “These people are all going to be coming to Davenport. They’re all going to be going to the beaches. We don’t have any infrastructure for this many visitors.”

Even now, with the mere announcement that the area is being considered, they have begun to arrive, she says. “For the past couple of weekends the line to get into the bathroom at Whale City Bakery has been a mile long.”

Similarly, there are folks in Bonny Doon who are not happy about the idea of having a national monument in their neighborhood. Ted Benhari, chairman of the board of the Rural Bonny Doon Association and editor of The Highlander, the group’s monthly newsletter, is one of them.

In an article last month Benhari laid out the problems he foresees: “Traffic, at least on dry season weekends, on Highway One between Davenport and Santa Cruz, will increase many-fold, to the detriment of locals, including the hundreds who ride their bikes on it each Saturday and Sunday. Beach parking lots will overflow, and, without adequate trash pickup, litter will abound. Police and fire and rescue departments, without additional resources, will be overmatched.”

Benhari says he would far prefer that the Bureau of Land Management put out a management plan prior to designation of national monument status.

That’s something monument supporters say is not possible. But they promise that once the designation has been achieved, there will be a long public process in which everyone’s concerns will be dealt with.

Reed says while he understands the neighbors’ concerns, he believes they are laboring under a number of misconceptions. “We understand that their fears are very real,” Reed says, “but the things they are afraid will happen are not real.”

Reed cites the number of visitors that critics claim will visit the monument as an example of one of those misconceptions. Spencer, Benhari and others consistently point to an estimate that 400,000 visitors per year will enter the monument. One piece of evidence they use to support that number is a claim that on Fort Ord National Monument, which was created in 2012, visitation was reported to have jumped from 40,000 to 400,000 “within just a few years of its designation.”

The figure of 40,000 is from 1999; in fact, visitation to Fort Ord increased steadily during the decade before its designation as a national monument. In 2011, the year before the designation, Fort Ord had 250,000-300,000 visitors.

Additionally, monument supporters point out that Fort Ord, unlike Coast Dairies, is virtually surrounded by towns and cities including Seaside, Marina and Del Rey Oaks, with Salinas nearby, and for residents of those communities there aren’t many easily accessed recreational opportunities nearby.

Benhari concedes that the number 400,000 might be inflated. “The monument will bring more people,” he says. “Four hundred thousand? Two hundred thousand? One hundred thousand? We just don’t want them to be making a back-of-the-envelope calculation.”

Some critics of the national monument see it as part of a larger scheme to turn the entire North Coast into a massive tourist destination. As Benhari wrote in The Highlander:

“If [national monument designation] happens, and it has a pretty good chance, it may be followed by the addition of the 8,500 acres of the San Vicente Redwoods, the former CEMEX coastal chaparral and timberlands. This would form what the leaders of the Sempervirens Fund envision as the ‘Great Park.’

“What will it mean if, as seems very possible, this comes to be? In all likelihood the Cemex cement plant property, or part of it, will become the Curry Village of Santa Cruz County.”

Shelley Ratay, executive director of the Sempervirens Fund, points out that the Cemex plant is not part of Coast Dairies, but she concedes that “if we have the opportunity, Sempervirens Fund would love to help transform that heavily impacted site from a brownfield into a greenfield,” and says that transformation might include “public recreational amenities.”

“It’s the perfect location to provide safe parking and other visitor services away from existing residential neighborhoods, establish trailheads into Coast Dairies and San Vicente Redwoods beyond, and tie into the regional Rail Trail line along the coast.”

Curry Village, Yosemite National Park’s budget destination, has several bars, a gear store and an ice rink, none of which is planned for Coast Dairies.

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Two other elements of the proposal found in legislation authored by Rep. Anna Eshoo are of deep concern to North Coast and Bonny Doon locals. One is the name. While some critics complain that only 10% of Coast Dairies contains redwood trees, and others feel that the families that founded Coast Dairies deserve to have their legacy honored, still others believe it’s proof that this monument is the camel sticking its nose under the tent.

To them, Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument is obviously intended to include the San Vicente Redwoods and—according to one theory—lands in the Santa Cruz Mountains now in private hands and targeted for acquisition by eminent domain. This theory also points to another proposal being discussed at Tuesday’s meeting: an open space district being spearheaded by former Assemblymember Fred Keeley, who is also chairman of the board of the Sempervirens Fund.

Many of these issues will be dealt with tomorrow. At the Board of Supervisors meeting, County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, whose district includes Bonny Doon and Davenport, will introduce a resolution in support of what he’s calling the Coast Dairies National Monument.

In addition to changing the proposed national monument’s name, the resolution addresses many other concerns raised by North Coast and Bonny Doon neighbors. Most importantly, it stipulates that BLM establish a management plan—including citizen input—within three years of designation and that public access be “limited” until that plan is complete.

In response to concerns about expansion into San Vicente Redwoods, Coonerty’s amended resolution says that “there shall be no mention of possible expansions, with exception of the possible annexation of Davenport Beach.”

Those concerned about eminent domain might rest easier knowing that Keeley has submitted a recommendation to the Board of Supervisors that the Parks, Recreation, Agricultural Conservation and Open Space District “not have eminent domain powers.”

It remains to be seen whether North Coast and Bonny Doon neighbors will find this acceptable. The DNCA’s Spencer, herself an avid hiker, says she’s not opposed to Coast Dairies being opened, but wants to see the process delayed significantly.

“I think everybody in the Bay Area should come down here and take a hike,” she says. “I just don’t want to see the North Coast overwhelmed.”

Sempervirens Fund's Ratay points out that National Monument status will almost certainly provide the community as a whole more resources to help deal with visitors to the North Coast, and help deal with problems that already exist. And, she says, this is the time to make this happen.

"Right now is the time when President Obama is making final decisions about the legacy he will leave for future generations," she says. "We can’t take for granted that an opportunity for monument designation will come around again. Political winds can change quickly.

"There’s momentum in Washington DC to unravel conservation protections on federal lands nationwide – protections that we’ve relied on for decades to hold the best of our nation’s lands in public trust. The Antiquities Act is also under threat. Coast Dairies deserves the federal government’s utmost care and permanent protection. The community needs to rally together and deliver this message to Washington DC with one loud voice. Now is our chance."

Full disclosure: Hilltromper is a media sponsor of the Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument Campaign. Sempervirens Fund is a Hilltromper partner. Fred Keeley serves on the Hilltromper Board of Advisors. For those reasons and many others, we took pains to ensure that this article fairly represent all sides of the debate.