“The LCP needs also to address coordination between those agencies promoting more tourism and those agencies looking out for the well being of the communities most heavily impacted. “
Sonoma Gazette: Cumulative Impacts & Land Use Policy
Nov 29, 2019
We have all been to places which are magnificent in their natural splendor but are so congested with people who love them that the experience is degraded along with the natural environment. In this case we are talking about the Sonoma County Coastline which stretches from Marin to Mendocino.
The basic challenge is to love the place without bringing on its ruination.
As the process of updating the Local Coastal Plan unfolds (and soon also the county General Plan update) the foundation of analysis should be an understanding of the carrying capacity of the natural environment and man-made infrastructure. Focusing for the moment on the latter, what is the carrying capacity of the roads, water systems/wells, the septic systems and sewerage treatment plants which constitute the core elements of infrastructure supporting human habitation of the area.
And beyond the infrastructure required for those who live on the coast it is critically important to understand the infrastructure demands and impacts of those who visit the coast. The interests of these two groups can and do conflict from time to time.
Carrying capacity is all about understanding limits. The limits of man-made infrastructure and the limits of the natural environment. Good planning is all about staying within those limits. In the Coastal Zone good planning also means balancing statewide policy interests with the quality-of-life and community character interests of those who live on our coast.
For example, an infrastructure limitation we have all experienced is worsening traffic throughout our county and region. Thinking of the coast, how many cars can Hwy One handle at peak season? And how about the roads which lead to the coast through Petaluma, Sebastopol and Guerneville? It doesn’t matter from which direction you come; you will be travelling on a two lane most often narrow rural road.
In the case of all man-made infrastructure the most important point is that it is limited. Exceeding the limits is sure to degrade the natural environment or quality of life or, most likely, both.
The Draft LCP talks a lot about the number of people who live in the Coastal Zone. There is also reference to the number of visitors.
Both groups impact infrastructure and the natural environment. However, it is the visitor category which grows and results in the greatest strain on infrastructure. There are millions more visitors to the coast than there are residents…we all know this. While it is recognized that tourism is a central part of the coastal economy there is little consideration of the issue of tourism carrying capacity in the long term. This basic issue underlies most if not all the policy discussion found within the Draft LCP.
Getting a handle on the issues surrounding growth in tourism must be a key aspect of the update process. It is easy for folks to understand highly visible growth such as a new subdivision or a major hotel but it is not so clear when growth comes in the form of increased day visitors coming out to enjoy expanded recreational facilities such as trails, regional parks and major events. No judgment intended as to the value of such activities, but impacts are impacts and planning must treat increased impacts with care.
The fiction of sustainability: It is popular today to frame all manner of human activities as being sustainable. Webster’s dictionary tells us sustainable means “Of, or relating to, or being a method of using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged.”
As we ponder the future of the coast in this LCP update it will be important to take a hard look at the cumulative impacts resulting from increased use of the coast, including those developments we take for granted as being desirable. For more than a century the Sonoma Coast has been a refuge for people living in the Bay Area and the Sacramento Valley. This is certainly still the case. Growth in the Bay Area and especially the Highway 80 corridor to Sacramento generates large increases in visitor days to the Sonoma Coast. In addition to this natural “local” growth in visitors there is a constant, ambitious government funded push to generate more visitors from afar.
The LCP needs also to address coordination between those agencies promoting more tourism and those agencies looking out for the well being of the communities most heavily impacted.
I hope to explore this question in greater depth in a future issue.