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Citizens' group files suit to stop Buddhist retreat's expansion

  • The Dharma Publishing facility, at the Ratna Ling Retreat Center in Cazadero, on Monday, July 14, 2014. The building in the center houses the printing presses, with two sacred text warehouses on the left and right. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ approval of a permit for a Buddhist retreat center and its publishing operation in the coastal hills west of Cazadero violated county land use standards and state law, according to a lawsuit filed by a citizens’ organization.

Coastal Hills Rural Preservation, a group based in the Seaview Ridge area, alleged that Ratna Ling Retreat Center illegally expanded the printing plant operation and paper text storage structures on rural Hauser Bridge Road above Salt Point State Park.

In granting a new use permit that authorized all current operations and some additions to the retreat center on June 24, the supervisors violated state law by failing to require an environmental impact report, the lawsuit said. The board’s approval came on a 3-2 vote with Chairman David Rabbitt and supervisors Efren Carrillo and Mike Maguire in favor, and supervisors Susan Gorin and Shirlee Zane opposed.

“This expansion of the printing and retreat operations at Ratna Ling was accomplished in a piecemeal fashion, avoiding regulatory and public scrutiny of the project as a whole,” according to the 30-page suit filed last week.

The suit seeks an immediate court order preventing Ratna Ling from making any additions based on the new permit, and ultimately an order rescinding the permit’s approval and requiring an environmental report that includes fire safety issues.

Ratna Ling critics, including Timber Cove Fire District officials and three environmental groups, have argued that the “industrial scale” printing and storage of sacred Tibetan Buddhist texts poses a fire hazard in the wooded hills of northwest Sonoma County and sets a bad land use precedent.

“It looks like the county can decide to put a factory in your area if they like the people (proposing it),” said Bruce Johnson, a sculptor and one of the Coastal Hills group’s six steering committee members.

The group is now “pared down” to those six people, but once had 175 signatures on a petition opposing a previous Ratna Ling expansion plan that was withdrawn, Johnson said.

Deputy County Counsel Verne Ball said Monday the county had not been served with the lawsuit and limited his comment to say the county “is confident in the legality of the board’s action.”

Tina Wallis, Ratna Ling’s attorney, said she was “confident a court will find that the county followed the law.”


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