Ernie Carpenter’s Letter to Supervisors on the proposed Coastal Plan

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Sonoma County Supervisors Plan to Homogenize the Sonoma Coast
September 22, 2015
The Planning and Resource Management Department has adopted Dr. Seuss as the perfect planning role model. The colorful character, Seuss, is famous for bright colors and talks in riddles. Only this adaption is not so funny and not so bright. It is actually scary to hear our local planners talk riddles about the Coast. They don’t appear to have a clue about the people, their issues, and most importantly what is special, sacred and worth preserving.
Let’s start with the very nature of the Coast. It is fragile, lacking in water, soil, and is constantly subject to weather, erosion, the pounding of Nature through waves, tides and sun. The people are very much self-reliant and completely aware of the unique and beautiful place in which they live. Coast-siders are environmentalists and protectors of the land. I will leave the beauty and splendor to the reader’s experience.
Sonoma County has protected this special and unique Coast. Past Supervisors have been leaders statewide in Coastal protection. We fought offshore oil, undersea mining, and created an award winning template in the Local Coastal Plan to preserve the coast from development and exploitation. We directed commercial uses to area that had sewer or were already developed. We acquired 70% of the coast for public ownership. We continue to fight the Iron rangers.
There is no developed road network and travel is on the narrow and oversubscribed Highway 1. Tourism is a mixed blessing. There is an obvious economic value, but it taxes local services including fire and ambulance, rescue, and policing. The Sonoma Coast is mostly in public ownership and accessible. We can expect that tourism will increase over time. Move inland a few yards in some places and an immense proud forest prevails. Recently the Board of Supervisors have thought it prudent to allow publishing warehouses and wineries in the fragile forest of the Sonoma Coast.
PRMD has trouble with the Local Coastal Plan existing as a stand-alone document. They want it as a part of the General Plan, like all the other plans, no special status, no special protective policies, “homogenized planning” if you will. The planners have said it is not a change, “…it is the same allowed uses…” Planners are the best at semantical differentials, it’s where they make their money. No change means we are doing to the Coast what we do elsewhere, inland. The Sonoma Coast because it has no special status and should be “homogenized” with Boyes Hot Springs, Graton or Geyserville planning rules.
Today, there are no Event Centers or large wineries on the Sonoma coast. The Local Coastal Plan does not allow this due to restrictive policies. That is going to change. In its wisdom to treat us all the same PRMD is proposing to move the General Plan’s Agricultural Element policy of allowing Event Centers and distilleries onto agricultural zoned coastal land as a part of introducing agricultural promotion into the Coastal Zone.
PRMD notes that there is currently no agricultural promotion on the coast as provided by the Ag Element and that this “promotion” is not needed now, but it may be needed in the future. Swear they said this. So they bring us something not wanted or needed because it may be needed in the future – Event Centers and distilleries in the Coastal Zone on Agricultural land.
It can get complicated in Seuss land. The General Plan does not allow restaurants and package sewer treatment plants in Agricultural zoning. However, the Ag Element of the General Plan allows “promotion” of Sonoma County grown products (read wine). Promotion can mean dinners from a commercial kitchen (as long as you don’t have a menu). It can mean live music, a thousand people a day, gewgaws sold in the store, picnics, sale of any product grown in Sonoma County. When you have a 1,000 people a day, they have to excrete somewhere and that somewhere in ag land is either a huge septic or package treatment plant.
Are you with me? You can’t have a hog but if you call it a pig, it’s O.K. even if it looks exactly like a hog. The kitchen has the same equipment as in a restaurant but if you call it promotion and you don’t have a menu, it is not a restaurant but an….Event Center. It gets better. Although, one needs a use permit for an Event Center, you can apply if you are promoting “Sonoma County products” with just one acre of grapes and on ten acres. You can truck the rest of the juice in from Lodi in a tanker and use this gimmick to establish an Event Center selling Sonoma County wine using a no menu restaurant to collect people up, entertain them, fleece them, and turn them loose half inebriated on the narrow oversubscribed coastal road, all under the guise of promotion.
So, the planners maintain that erasing the Local Coastal Plan in favor of integrating General Plan agricultural policies is not a change. That if it is allowed in Alexander Valley, and those policies come to the Coast, it is not a change, even if the new policy allows new development. Much speculation: is this an intended consequence? Are they ignorant, a plot? Diabolical with the Supervisors wanting to open up the Coast for development? Any way you look at it, our political representation is nil, void, and missing. Simply put, they don’t get the mood of the people regarding our Coast. They do not have our interest equal to that of Big Wine.
Could it be that having a special and unique Local Coastal Plan for twenty-five years has caused so many problems for PRMD that now they need to fold it into the General Plan and bring us less protection for resource, giant castles serving wine and food on the coast, and homogenized policies that make the Coast less of a special place in the process?
Enter Alice in Wonderland. The County knows it has a problem with the over-concentration of wineries in many areas of the County, wineries that don’t grow enough wine grapes but become entertainment and Event Centers, and the ensuing general impact upon neighborhoods. They have established a twenty one person strong committee to grapple with these issues. The Planning Director J.T. Wick says he is going to guide the Committee to come up with (better) rules for the Board to adopt around Event Centers in ag land to mitigate the ton of problems. Pardon me for becoming skeptical when the same planners attend the two meetings, one to limit Event Centers because of local impacts and public outcry and the other to expand Event Centers into the Coastal Zone where they do not exist now.
Say it cannot be true that this is the level of ability of our planners and elected leaders. They do not have the comprehension to understand and recognize that if Event Centers are a problem inland, that if the County does not have adequate policies and needs a Committee to develop new restrictions on inland Event Centers, that Event Centers should be exported to the Coastal Zone? This logic, that is the current planning thought, is incomprehensible to us mere mortals.
We lack leadership in the County on Event Centers, land use and resolving environmental issues. Leadership would understand that PRMD not only looks foolish for identifying Event Centers as a countywide problem and then suggest moving them into the Coastal Zone where they will have an even larger impacts but it makes the Supervisors look bad. Aside from looking bad, you are mucking up the Coast. Who will lead us in preserving the Coast? Which Supervisor will tell the planners this is a ridiculous idea and will only lead to raging conflict? It could cost you your job as a political leader. Event Centers will do absolutely nothing for the people and the Coast.
Do not homogenize the Sonoma Coast with Event Centers and imported central valley wine. Tell the Supervisors to not “grape” the Coast. Supervisors, please keep you Event Centers in Industrial Parks where they belong. You can rise to the occasion and be a Coastal Defender or you can be a ‘wimp’ for homogenized Coastal grape policies. Which side are you on Supervisors? We know where we stand. No Big Wine massive and intrusive Event Centers in the Coastal Zone. End it today.

Ernie Carpenter

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