s
s
Sections
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, nearly 1.5 million people used their mobile devices to visit our sites.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Wow! You read a lot!
Reading enhances confidence, empathy, decision-making, and overall life satisfaction. Keep it up! Subscribe.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
Until next month, you can always look over someone's shoulder at the coffee shop.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
We don't just cover the North Bay. We live here.
Did You Know? In the first 10 days of the North Bay fire, we posted 390 stories about the fire. And they were shared nearly 137,000 times.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Supporting the community that supports us.
Obviously you value quality local journalism. Thank you.
Already a subscriber?
iPhone
Oops, you're out of free articles.
We miss you already! (Subscriptions start at just 99 cents.)
Already a subscriber?
iPhone

We’re standing on a promontory north of the seaside village of Jenner. Below us, we see where the Russian River meets the Pacific, the sweep of beach that leads to the monolith that is Goat Rock, the craggy shoreline beyond. On one of those perfect Sonoma County mornings, there cannot be many places on earth more beautiful than this.

President Donald Trump wants to drill for oil here.

Generations of Californians, Democrats and Republicans, have dedicated themselves to the protection of this coastline, and now an unpopular president would give it all away.

In January, the president announced he would open most U.S. coastal waters to oil and gas leases. It should be noted that the administration soon made an exception for Florida. Trump’s friend, the Republican governor Rick Scott, hopes to be elected to the U.S. Senate later this year, and offshore oil exploration isn’t popular in Florida either.

Also, Florida is not California. If we have learned anything about the president during his first year in office, it is that he is willing to support policies that disadvantage the states where he is least popular.

On this morning, we’re standing on a headland that has its own story. In the late 1960s, developers wanted to turn the lower Russian River into a massive gravel dredging operation and begin a residential and commercial development that could have involved as many as 8,000 acres.

But local opponents weren’t going to be deterred, and so the proposals died. “Years of county and state hearings ended with the defeat of the developers …” Elinor Twohy wrote in her history of Jenner.

This overlook is now part of the 5,630-acre Jenner Headlands Preserve, a spectacular sanctuary that is expected to open to visitors later this year. The consortium of landowners, conservation organizations and government agencies that assembled this $36 million acquisition was providing its own testimony to California’s commitment to coastal protection.

Jenner’s development controversy came along about the time that Californians were coming to understand their coastline needed protection from uncontrolled development.

Opponents had beaten back a proposal for a nuclear power plant at Bodega Bay, and then came proposals for over-sized subdivisions at Sea Ranch and elsewhere — some of which were designed to deny public access to the coast.

There also was a devastating spill from an offshore oil platform in the Santa Barbara Channel. An estimated 3 millions gallons of crude oil escaped in the 1969 accident. Beaches were covered with sludge. Dead fish and wildlife washed ashore. Birds, coated with an oily muck and unable to fly, were left to die.

Three years later, California voters — fed up with the inaction of the state Legislature — approved a coastal protection initiative that forever changed the rules for development along more than a thousand miles of coastline.

We can imagine what the Sonoma County coastline would be like today if Californians continued to believe that commercial exploitation was all that mattered. There could be a nuclear power plant (likely abandoned by now) casting its shadow across Bodega Bay. There could be gravel mining in Jenner and subdivisions here, there and everywhere.

The old and now discredited argument says that the U.S. needs to risk its coastal waters in the name of becoming energy independent.

But it was Trump who reminded us during his State of the Union address that America is now an exporter of energy. (In his eagerness to claim credit, what he didn’t say was that most of the gains in domestic oil production occurred during the eight years that Barack Obama was president.) As the rush to electric cars and other energy innovations accelerates, it doesn’t make sense to destroy a coastline for an untested source of oil.

California will fight back. The California Coast Commission already made clear it won’t be approving the onshore facilities necessary to serve offshore oil platforms.

If Trump doesn’t like California, it may be because California is so successful.

California, after all, is now the sixth-largest economy on Earth and the driver of much of the innovation that makes the American economy dominant in the world. Since 2010, this state has been responsible for 20 percent of the economic growth in the United States, the New York Times reported last week.

And, yes, California also believes that its coastline should be protected from exploitation by a few. Once the resources are gone, they’re gone forever.

As we drove south from Jenner, we saw countless people doing whatever it is people do at the coast — kids throwing footballs, families building sandcastles, couples holding hands, folks holding a book or a notebook and staring out at the ocean.

Arguments against offshore oil exploration usually focus on the risks to the tourism and fishing industries in these seaside towns. Estimates say this “ocean economy” produces $42 billion a year in economic activity.

We’re less sure about how to put a value on the reasons people are drawn to the coast. How do you put a price on fun or romance, inspiration or serenity? How do you put a price on the natural beauty available at every turn?

This coastline remains one of the great rewards of living in California, and its beauty testifies to the hard-fought battles that inspired Californians’ determination to protect it.

Pete Golis is a columnist for The Press Democrat. Email him at golispd@gmail.com.

Show Comment