Richard Charter Senior Fellow, The Ocean Foundation on the Coastal Plan

From Richard Charter, Senior Fellow The Ocean Foundation on the proposed LCP

September 28, 2015
Permit & Resource Management Department
County of Sonoma
2550 Ventura Avenue
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
Attention: Lisa Posternak
Submitted via email at:
PRMD-LCP-Update@sonoma-county.org
Re: Comments on the draft proposed Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan (LCP).
Dear Ms. Posternak:
Thank you for this opportunity to comment on the draft proposed Sonoma County Local
Coastal Plan (LCP).
Our LCP must continue to provide the critical template for maintaining the compelling
beauty and natural character of the Sonoma County coastal zone. Maintaining a robust LCP
remains our best defense in the face of inappropriate development pressures in peaceful
rural areas, ill-advised industrial projects in the wrong place, the threat to public safety posed
by now-unregulated coastal vacation rental mismanagement, and poorly-designed highway
infrastructure construction. The preliminary draft proposed Sonoma County Local Coastal
Plan provides a good start at continuing our past careful stewardship of our coastal lands,
but weakening amendments have crept in that need to be dropped and more protective
measures should be included in the next iteration of the LCP to keep up with newlyemerging
threats to our coast. There are plenty of inspiring precedents and success stories
that justify applying the precautionary principle to continuing to protect our coastal assets
here.
The condition of the Sonoma Coast today has been largely defined by the damaging projects
that have not been built here. For more than a half-century, concerned local citizens have
worked diligently with, and sometimes without, the help of local elected officials to prevent
the destruction of our coast, including stopping the construction of a nuclear power plant on
a major earthquake fault on Bodega Head and scrapping a proposed industrial gravel
dredging project to remove Penny Island and excavate an artificial embayment to be
surrounded by urban-density condominiums at Jenner. Similar citizen efforts prevented
construction of a once-proposed four lane Jenner bridge connected to a continuous
Highway One freeway from Petaluma combined with a large coastal water supply aqueduct
to encourage oceanside subdivisions. Sonoma County residents also eventually stopped the
attempted lockout of the public from virtually every beach and cove at Sea Ranch, and
permanently precluded offshore drilling rigs and associated high-risk petroleum
infrastructure at Sea Ranch and Bodega Bay while finding constructive water recycling
alternatives to proposed municipal wastewater disposal at the Estero Americano and an
ocean outfall pipeline off of Salmon Creek Beach. All of these successes took place even
while the public worked to achieve incremental improvements in disastrous logging activities
that had long continued in Sonoma County as representative of some of the most
ecologically damaging timber harvest practices in the nation. During the same period, the
public pursued the successful adoption of the Coastal Act that enabled the California Coastal
Commission while creating our hard-won system of state and county coastal parklands that
now serves as an important driver of today’s vibrant regional clean-coast economy. It is time
for our Local Coastal Plan to build upon, and not erode as proposed in the current draft
version, the past historic precedents that have thus far maintained our coast as the worldclass
wonder it remains today.
These comments focus on six primary sets of policy requirements confronting our coast at
this time: (1) Supplement and update applicable sections of the draft proposed LCP relating
to the remaining ongoing potential for onshore facilities that will be needed if offshore oil
and gas activities eventually occur to our north; (2) Eliminate the proposed weakening
amendments to the Agricultural Lands element that would inappropriately broaden
permitted uses in the Coastal Zone to include industrial-scale recreational uses and large
wineries and associated major event facilities; (3) Issues related to the anticipated weakening
of the amended LCP to define the parameters of the proposed Caltrans Gleason Beach
Highway One Realignment and Bridge Project; (4) The need to defend our coast’s
Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA) threatened by habitat-disturbing activities
such as destructive new timber harvest plans along the Gualala River floodplain and the
unprecedented “perched lagoon” proposal for the Jenner Estuary; (5) Don’t amend the LCP
to accommodate the proposed “BB-COOL” marketing center as currently being planned for
the village of Bodega Bay; and (6) Need to strengthen the Sonoma County Vacation Rentals
Ordinance and apply it within the Coastal Zone to protect public safety.
Comments on each of these six key elements follow in the subject order outlined
above:
(1) Supplement and update applicable sections of the draft proposed LCP relating to
the remaining ongoing potential for onshore facilities that will be needed if offshore
oil and gas activities eventually occur to our north:
A permanent prohibition on federal offshore oil and gas leasing and subsea mining along the
entirety of the Sonoma Coast was put in place pursuant to the Federal Register-noticed
rulemaking on March 12, 2015, 15-CFR Part 922, RIN 0648-BD18 at
http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/management/fr/80fr13078.pdf
This rulemaking was then coupled with the subsequent notice of name-change and
accompanying formal Final Rulemaking on June 15, 2015, 15-CFR Part 922, RIN 0648-
BE95 at
http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/management/fr/80fr34047.pdf
This permanent and binding prohibition precluding federal offshore oil and gas leasing along
the remaining previously-unprotected portions of the Sonoma Coast was put in place as a
result of three decades of supportive actions by the fishing industry, the Sonoma County
Board of Supervisors, the California congressional delegation, and the general public,
resulting in the boundaries of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine
Sanctuaries being expanded northward to Alder Creek in Mendocino County, see map at:
http://farallones.noaa.gov/manage/pdf/expansion/maps/Expansion_150514_v17.pdf
These new federal protections have resulted in a name change for the Gulf of the Farallones
National Marine Sanctuary, now renamed the Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
In State of California waters within three miles from shore, a State Tidelands Oil and Gas
Sanctuary also remains in place, preventing state leasing of nearshore waters to oil and gas
companies.
In spite of these permanent prohibitions on offshore oil and gas leasing that had long been
proposed near the Sonoma Coast, there remains the eventual potential for the inner harbor
at Bodega Bay to one day still be targeted for construction of an onshore support base or
related oil terminal and transshipment facility to accompany federal offshore oil and gas
leasing that might occur further north off of the Mendocino Coast in the future. Therefore,
the rarity of the sheltered harbor at Bodega Bay, and the dearth of similar harbors nearby,
dictate that the LCP’s prior “Outer Continental Shelf Development Policy”, including
references to Coastal Act provision 30262 contained in the “Sonoma County Local Coastal
Plan Update Preliminary Draft-June 2015” Land Use Element should remain in the LCP
document going forward, including the protective OCS elements of the referenced “Bodega
Bay Land Use Plan” as well as the prior LCP’s reference to the voter-adopted “Ordinance
359 2R”, including Goal-C-LU-1, Objective-C-LU-1.1, Objective-C-LU-1.2, and further
including the cited reference: “The following policies shall be used to achieve these
objectives: Policy C-LU-1a”, inclusive, and also including (Existing LCP Revised) Policy CLU-
1b (with appropriate updating strikeouts remaining per those being proposed by staff in
the “Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan Update Preliminary Draft-June 2015” as circulated
by PRMD).
The findings of the “Offshore Oil Development-Onshore Facilities Feasibility Study” as
previously referenced in the “Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan Update Preliminary Draft-
June 2015” should also remain in the revised LCP as proposed in the draft by PRMD.
Other offshore energy generation facilities, including but not limited to floating or fixed
wind and wave arrays, are not necessarily prohibited outright by the 2015 expanded National
Marine Sanctuary designations, nor by the pre-existing National Marine Sanctuaries, but such
industrial installations could, like potential offshore oil and gas development north of
Sonoma County, extend over large areas of the ocean and result in as-yet-poorly-understood
adverse impacts within the Coastal Zone, including physical alteration of wave behavior
along our coastline, and also hold the potential for substantial offshore space-use conflicts
displacing the region’s commercial fishing industry and recreational fishers from traditional
fishing grounds and practices. No new permits or proposed projects of this type are
currently pending, and the economics of such technologies compared with other energy
sources are not presently competitive and it is unclear whether these installations would
receive necessary approvals from agencies holding relevant jurisdiction offshore, although
the LCP should be anticipatory and precautionary on this topic since onshore
industrialization is likely to accompany these types of installations. Such non-oil-and-gas
energy installations, were they to be ultimately permitted offshore, would be likely to result
in related onshore permit applications for various types of terrestrial support facilities on
lands adjoining coastal harbors such as Bodega Bay, the various constraints for which could
eventually be interpreted and transposed with appropriate technical guidance from Sonoma
County’s “Offshore Oil Development-Onshore Facilities Feasibility Study”, once the actual
physical infrastructure needs, public service requirements, and land-use footprint of such
onshore support facilities have been fully disclosed on a case-by-case basis. No utility grid
connectivity or substation of sufficient capacity presently exists in Bodega Bay, or anywhere
near the Sonoma Coast, for a transmission cable landfall from such an installation offshore.
Maps showing adjacent offshore waters in the new LCP should also be updated to reflect the
creation of new marine protected areas in state waters off of the Sonoma coast, reflected as
follows:
http://farallones.noaa.gov/about/pdf/CA_MLPA.pdf
LCP maps should also be updated to depict the California Coast National Monument and
Corridor, which includes offshore farallones and seastacks along the Sonoma Coast:
http://www.blm.gov/style/medialib/blm/ca/nlcs/California_Coastal_NM/maps.Par.65314
.File.dat/CA_CaliforniaCoastal_NM.pdf
(2) Eliminate the proposed weakening amendments to the Agricultural Lands
element that would inappropriately broaden permitted uses in the Coastal Zone to
include industrial-scale recreational uses and large wineries and associated major
public event facilities:
The Coastal Zone of Western Sonoma County has retained its unique rural character due in
large part to the ongoing protections long provided in the LCP. In spite of a growing
popularity with bicycle racers and an explosive increase in out-of-area visitor traffic drawn by
breathtaking viewsheds from quiet lanes, the history of this region is literally written on the
land by our LCP. The most recent iteration of the draft proposed Sonoma County Local
Coastal Plan would arbitrarily transfer a less-protective set of planning principles from the
“General Plan 2020” document and use it for future application to the Coastal Zone by
amending the LCP and inappropriately seeking certification of such changes by the
California Coastal Commission. This misguided attempt at the application of lax inland
planning principles ignores the sensitive nature of our coastal lands, wildlife, and watersheds.
Permanent conversion of forestlands to vineyards on often steep erosion-prone soils,
installation of large bulk wine-processing and tasting-room facilities not dependent upon
onsite agricultural products, and the approval of industrial-scale printshops, event centers,
and other commercial facilities represents a tragic departure from the heritage of care and
stewardship that has long characterized our coastal zone. This water-scarce region is
obviously prone to disastrous fires, such as the Creighton Ridge Fire in 1978, see
http://www.sonoma-county.org/prmd/docs/hmp_2011/figures/8_9.pdf
Emergency response times are necessarily a function of distance for many sparselypopulated
rural areas along our coast, and in spite of the best efforts of first responders,
wildfires have sometimes gotten a dangerous head start before a full-scale response can
arrive. It would be gravely irresponsible to expose these highly volatile lands to a much
greater risk of ignition sources from increased human activity when urban levels of
emergency response capability are simply not going to be available.
Unique plant assemblages and wildlife are an important part of this region, see
http://oredazac.tripod.com/flora.html
For these reasons, the arbitrary application of “General Plan 2020” land use principles to the
Coastal Zone would be wholly inappropriate and pose a danger to residents, to highway
safety, and to the unique character of the region.
(3) Issues related to the anticipated weakening of the LCP to define the parameters
of the proposed Caltrans Gleason Beach Highway One Realignment and Bridge
Project:
Predictably, bluff erosion from a perched water table in unstable soils threatens California
State Highway One and is undermining a mistakenly-permitted subdivision atop crumbling
cliffs near Gleason Beach on the Sonoma Coast. Caltrans is proposing a massive elevated
concrete bridge overpass and associated appurtenances that, if constructed as now defined,
would virtually obliterate a unique coastal Scenic Landscape Unit (SLU) at the mouth of
Scotty Creek, result in the loss of valuable cultural resources, damage important ESHA
wetlands, and impose an urban landscape on a historic ranch and associated agricultural
buildings. Execution of the present grandiose version of Caltrans’ proposal needs to be
scaled back to more appropriately resolve the need for a reasonable highway bypass without
constructing an irrelevant project that would be entirely out of scale with its fragile natural
setting on a unique part of the Sonoma Coast. Caltrans has, thus far, avoided holding onthe-
record public hearings in compliance with CEQA for this proposed project. Mitigation
measures being discussed for unavoidable irreversible impacts of the Caltrans project are
thus far inadequate. The LCP should not be amended upon adoption to categorically
approve the proposed Caltrans’ Gleason Beach Realignment Project until pressing issues of
scale, future continuation of public beach access, an appropriate ratio of necessary mitigation
measures, the unaddressed need for stream recovery and salmonid restoration, and the
project’s irreversible destruction of wetlands and scenic values have been resolved to the
satisfaction of the County of Sonoma and local residents and is found to be in full
compliance with CEQA and this project is determined to be consistent with all relevant
elements of the LCP, including avoidance of ESHA habitat designations.
(4) The need to defend our coast’s Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA)
threatened by habitat-disturbing activities such as destructive new timber harvest
plans along the Gualala River floodplain and the “perched lagoon” proposal for the
Jenner Estuary:
The now-pending “Dogwood” Timber Harvest Plan for 320-acres within the floodplain of
the Gualala River and close to the edge of Sonoma County’s Gualala Point County Park lies
within the Sonoma County LCP on both the north and south sides of the river, see
http://gualalariver.org/forestry/massive-floodplain-logging-plan-for-lower-gualala-riverthreatens-
wetlands-rare-plants-endangered-wildlife/ This plan for floodplain logging
threatens wetlands, rare plants, and endangered wildlife, and the newly-amended LCP should
clearly protect ESHA values at this site. Maps for overlay with the ESHA designations in
the LCP can be found at
http://gualalariver.org/slider-front-page/maps-of-logging-plans-on-the-lower-gualala-river/
Similarly, at the mouth of the Russian River, in the sensitive estuary itself, a proposed plan
for construction of an impounded “perched lagoon” would adversely impact longdesignated
ESHA habitat surrounding this very important estuarine mixing zone, contrary to
the federal Clean Water Act. As wetlands surrounding the Russian River estuary are
artificially flooded by this impoundment, sensitive estuarine habitats for threatened species
would disappear underwater and alter a natural feature critical to migrating waterfowl and
other important nursery and foodsource uses by a range of marine, avian, and estuarine
species.
(5) Need to avoid amending the LCP to accommodate the proposed “BB-COOL”
marketing center as currently being planned for the village of Bodega Bay:
A well-intended proposal for a new commercially-oriented visitor center in Bodega Bay, to
be constructed on the present site of the Mason’s Marina store, is being promoted under the
name of “BB-COOL”. The resulting expanded tourist venue as currently proposed would
include public kayak and standup-paddleboard rentals, service desks for selling tickets to
promote various recreational attractions, and an interpretive public facility with a guide to
local sites of interest, including promotion of a proposed water-taxi service to other
commercial locations around the inner harbor at Bodega Bay. Lack of adequate onsite
parking, the cumulative impacts of this project in conjunction with other nearby high-density
recreational vehicle and camping concentrations, and the limited capacity of the alreadystressed
traffic and emergency services infrastructure in the town of Bodega Bay have caused
this proposal to recently receive a less-than-enthusiastic reception from some of the
recognized Bodega Bay municipal organizations to which project proposals have been made
to date. Eighty percent of emergency responses by the Bodega Bay Fire Protection District
are reportedly now serving visitors, and extensive holiday traffic backups are no longer
unusual around the Bay Flat Road and Highway One intersections. Particular attention must
be paid, in redesign of this project, to impacts of the project’s proliferation of watercraft on
wildlife and the limited remnant ESHA habitat in Bodega Bay’s inner harbor, and on the
collective implications of this and other related projects on nearby residents, on growing
traffic gridlock, and on the Bay itself. It is recommended that the update of the LCP not
include a pro-forma amendment to automatically permit the construction of “BB-COOL” as
now proposed.
(6) Need to strengthen the Sonoma County Vacation Rentals Ordinance and apply it
within the Coastal Zone:
Unauthorized vacation rentals are rapidly proliferating within the Coastal Zone, often
offered online by inexperienced absentee managers soliciting unscreened short-term parties
without the requisite collection of Transient Occupancy Tax (ToT). Without onsite
managers or any nearby law enforcement oversight, associated unsupervised visitor activities
are now raising compelling public safety issues that include dangerous housefires resulting
from careless discard of hot fireplace ashes, fire lanes routinely blocked by illegal offsite
parking of multiple vehicles, repeat noise ordinance violations, extreme public intoxication
with the resulting antisocial and indecent behavior overflowing into quiet family
neighborhoods from out-of-control all-night bachelor parties, nuisance animals barking
while chained outdoors, and the full range of urban social problems. The draft LCP
contains a number of references to prospective actions related to this topic that are being
considered by the County, including “Policy C-LU-5aa: Consider regulating the use of
existing residences on residential lands for vacation rentals. (New: HCD certified General
Plan 2014 Housing Element Policy HE-1k)”, as well as “Policy C-LU-5j: Avoid the loss of
residential land in urban land-use designations for vacation or time-share uses. (New: HCD
certified General Plan 2014 Housing Element Policy HE-1j)”, and “Policy C-LU-5k:
Consider regulating the use of existing residences on residential lands for vacation rentals.
(New: HCD certified General Plan 2014 Housing Element Policy HE-1k)” and “Policy CLU-
5l. Prohibit the use of Second Dwelling Units for vacation rentals. (New: HCD certified
General Plan 2014 Housing Element Policy HE-1l)”. The prevailing lawless unregulated
web-based VRBO approach of “anything goes” in some of our coastal neighborhoods
currently denies the County substantial ToT revenues that it is due, endangers visitors and
residents alike, creates risky situations for first responders, and ultimately serves no one. The
County clearly has a responsibility to permanent residents to restore and maintain the
integrity and safety of existing neighborhoods by updating the LCP to apply effective
relevant policies as outlined above, and at a minimum, to strengthen and apply the County’s
vacation rental ordinance to all parts of the Coastal Zone.
To maintain the qualities of the fragile Sonoma Coast that we all value so much, we need the
County to keep a strong LCP in place.
Thank you for this opportunity to provide these comments on the draft proposed Local
Coastal Plan at this time.
Sincerely,
Richard A. Charter
Senior Fellow
The Ocean Foundation
waterway@monitor.net

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