Close to Home: Coastal protection threatened where it started

No single corporate entity is entitled to undermine our vested right to easily access a protected public shoreline.|

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

Can you imagine a four-lane freeway running from Petaluma to Jenner, built to service high-density subdivisions blanketing the scenic blufftops between Bodega Bay and the Russian River, and permanent closure of a swath of shoreline to block off access by the public?

These were just a few of the environmental threats the Sonoma Coast faced in the 1970s. Outspent financially and confronted by an aggressive billboard campaign underwritten by corporate oil and development interests, California’s voters and state Legislature simply said “enough” and set in motion an orderly process to ensure that the California coast would survive in perpetuity.

Richard Retecki
Richard Retecki

California’s voters had just adopted Proposition 20 — the statewide coastal initiative — in 1972, largely in response to a series of disastrous schemes targeting the Sonoma Coast. By 1976, state legislators had made coastal protection permanent.

Returning from military service in Vietnam, I had the privilege of being retained to draft Sonoma County’s first Local Coastal Plan under California’s innovative coastal zone management law. The document became a model for coastal plans in other shoreline counties.

As we identified looming threats to sensitive coastal parcels of unusual environmental value, it became logical to flag those special places for extra protection. A living document, the Sonoma County Local Coastal Plan thus emerged as the public archive of institutional memory that tells us which locations are most in need of special protection. That’s why maintaining this part of the document remains essential even now.

In February, the Sonoma County Planning Commission, after careful deliberations that included several duly noticed public hearings, unanimously adopted a continuation of the existing language in our Local Coastal Plan, including these long-standing parcel-specific protections. Those of us who spent much of our lives working to protect the coast are dismayed and shocked that the Board of Supervisors would even consider overturning the well-thought-out recommendations of their own Planning Commission to benefit one particular East Coast developer whose bulldozers are aimed at sensitive natural habitat right above the oceanside bluffs near Timber Cove. The developer’s plan is to then keep the public away from the coast for part of the year and build an event center and multiple high-end rental houses.

No single corporate entity is entitled to undermine our vested right to easily access a protected public shoreline. Under normal conditions, local elected officials would simply follow a transparent public process that leads to the continuation of these necessary public protections for the Sonoma Coast instead of arbitrarily considering erasing them for private benefit.

The well-established process of updating our Local Coastal Plan has never before been controversial, and its thoughtful renewal has served us successfully for over 40 years. The protection of our coast relies on it, our regional economy likewise depends on a protected coast, and we all enjoy the visible proof of the positive results of this durable plan each time we visit our coast.

We cannot allow outside influences to prevail at the tragic cost of lessening protection of our magnificent coastline. Rigging the system destroys the public good. When their final vote on our Local Coastal Plan comes up, the Board of Supervisors need do nothing more than approve it while keeping these essential parcel-specific protections intact.

Richard Retecki is a retired land use and coastal planner for Sonoma County and the California Coastal Conservancy. He lives in Sebastopol.

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The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and don’t necessarily reflect The Press Democrat editorial board’s perspective. The opinion and news sections operate separately and independently of one another.

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