Supporters of a campaign to extend national monument status to a stretch of scenic southern Mendocino County coastline will host U.S. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Friday in hopes that seeing the property for herself will convert her to their cause.
Jewell will be joined by acting Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze in what advocates hope will prove a tipping point in their bid to expand the California Coastal National Monument so it includes the Stornetta Public Lands near Point Arena.
"This is it," said Merita Whatley, manager of the Point Arena Lighthouse and a leader in the Point Arena Merchants' Association. "We've been waiting for a year and a half, two years, for someone high up in the Interior Department to come see the lands and witness for themselves what we're talking about."
"This is, obviously, a hugely important project for Mendocino County," Rep. Jared Huffman said, "where you have a tourist economy making up a huge part of the county's economic vitality, the branding that would come with national monument status, the additional visitations, not to mention the permanent environmental protection of this really important area."
The trip and "public listening session" at Point Arena City Hall is in part a result of repeated invitations by Huffman, a San Rafael Democrat whose district includes the land. Huffman introduced The California Coastal National Monument Expansion Act of 2013 in the House last spring, co-sponsoring with Rep. Mike Thompson, D—St. Helena.
It also fits nicely into the new secretary's weeklong national tour to advance the Obama administration's conservation agenda, which Jewell outlined in a high-profile speech before the National Press Club last week.
Touting the economic benefits of public lands and the Democratic ideal of setting land aside for all Americans to enjoy, Jewell chastised Congress for failing to protect "a single new acre of public land" since 2010. She also signaled the administration's preparedness "to step up where Congress falls short."
"We're very, very excited," said former Point Arena Mayor Leslie Dahlhoff, one in a group of locals working for the past several years to win national conservation status for the Stornetta land.
After Jewell's recent speech, "our hopes are high," she said.
The California Coastal National Monument, dedicated in 2000 by then-President Clinton, is made up of a 1,100-mile stretch of rock formations, small islands, seastacks and pinnacles off the California Coast.
Huffman envisions the Stornetta area as a natural gateway to the marine monument, providing "a toehold" for visitors that allows them to feel they are in the monument area.
The 1,132-acre bluff-top ranch property managed by the Bureau of Land Management includes the biologically rich Garcia River estuary and two miles of spectacular, rugged coastline adjoining the Point Arena Lighthouse.
It also abuts the southern edge of Manchester State Beach, connecting it to an expanse of public properties including recent acquisitions by the Trust for Public Lands that would be added to the national monument for a total 1,664 acres if the proposed expansion is passed.
The result is nearly 12 miles of uninterrupted, publicly accessible coastline running from Irish Beach to the Point Arena Pier.
The House legislation passed in July, with some added provisions, Huffman said. But a companion bill sponsored by California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer has not moved yet, "so we are going to be urging our senate colleagues to take action on this in the weeks ahead," he said.