Santa Cruz Sentinel Op-Ed, 12/18/2016

Monument or Not, Coast Dairies Will Never Be “Developed”

By Ted Benhari, Friends of the North Coast

In a recent OpEd the Hilltromper.com editors Traci Hukill and Eric Johnson raise the possibility that if Coast Dairies doesn’t become a national monument it could be sold to developers to build “an exclusive enclave” of estate homes, as proposed by an entrepreneur 20 years ago. Monument status would keep that from ever happening, they write, so urge President Obama to proclaim it before Trump and his allies in Congress sell it off.

Ironically, in their self-contradictory, inaccurate, and misleading editorial Hukill and Johnson quote from the deed which transferred Coast Dairies from the Trust for Public Lands (TPL) to the federal Bureau of Land Management in 2014: The property “shall be used and managed for open space and public recreation in a manner consistent with the protection and preservation of natural habitats.” The protections in that deed, which are also enshrined in a Coastal Development Permit that local citizens, including members of the Friends of the North Coast (FONC), pressured TPL to obtain, is permanently attached to the property. Both deed and permit contain several other protections that guarantee that Coast Dairies will never be developed except for trails and visitor facilities.

While it is true that without monument status the federal government can sell Coast Dairies, the deed restrictions and permit will remain in force and binding on whoever acquires it, in perpetuity. Why would a developer spend many millions of dollars to buy a piece of land that can’t be used for housing or commercial activity?

As Hukill and Johnson know, the “plan” that they cite, to checker Coast Dairies with expensive homes, never had a chance of being realized. It was drawn up, and promoted in a slick video, by an entrepreneur whose business model is to buy an option on environmentally valuable properties and threaten to develop them, so that environmental groups are panicked into buying them at inflated prices.

The Hilltrompers also should have revealed that Sempervirens Fund, the backers of the monument campaign, is a sponsor of their website.

Monument status for Coast Dairies will do little but greatly increase visitation to the property, by gearing up a worldwide publicity machine fueled by outdoor and recreation organizations, websites and publications, without any guarantee of additional funds for stewardship. Local police, fire and rescue services, already stretched thin, will be overburdened. Davenport, the town residents proudly proclaim the “Slow Coast”, will be inundated with visitors who will forever alter the ambience of that tiny community. Davenporters have repeatedly rejected plans to boost tourism.

The coast from southern San Mateo through northern Santa Cruz is not only one of the world’s biodiversity hotspots, but a marvelous outdoor playground for the millions of people in the San Francisco and Monterey bay areas. Thanks to the efforts of many people and groups, including FONC, that fought hard to preserve and protect Coast Dairies, the great majority of it is now safe from development. But funds to manage this marvelous heritage are inadequate. State Parks can’t properly care for the beaches, which are being trashed, and the hills where outlaw cyclists (a small percentage of the biking community) cut new trails at will.

Besides more money, what is needed is regional planning, to study and map resources and determine the best uses for the various preserved properties, so we have the least impact on animal and plant communities while still accommodating recreation and appreciation of nature.

The best way to ensure that Coast Dairies isn’t impacted by too many human users is to let BLM quietly manage it, with local oversight. Monument status will just be too much of a good thing. At the least, if President Obama does issue a proclamation, it must include the conditions demanded by our Board of Supervisors, to minimize impacts. Email (www.whitehouse.gov/contact) or call (202-456-1111) the White House and tell the President that.