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For many Californians, the coast is a sacred ground. Instead of beaches crammed with bungalows and fast food as on the gulf coast or Atlantic, its contemplative, wide open vistas. 

A pending update to documents guiding, or some would say limiting... development... is sparking some disagreement.

An update to the local coastal plan has been in the works for some time. Supervisor Lynda Hopkins said that in conversations with the county’s planning director and staff, she learned clauses in the long established plan, including, ‘parcel specific zoning' aren’t what they seem.

“It actually encourages development in small communities where we don’t want to see development along the coast, like Valley Ford, Duncans Mills and Jenner. There are actually pro-development policies that are a carry-over from prior local coastal plans.”

If current rules are permissive, Hopkins admitted the results are hard to find.

“They’ve never been used to either accept or reject a development project. So, if they are protective or if they are incentives for development, they actually haven’t been very effective as a policy, partly because, according to our attorneys and our staff who work in the planning department, they are actually somewhat ambiguous and really difficult to implement.”

Efforts to clean up the language have sparked some pushback. A letter to the editor published in the Press Democrat May 1st, by former congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, calls out the process, cautioning it would help, not hinder, further development.

Hopkins chalks some of the imbroglio to the confusing legalese of planning documents. She said she favors recommendations of a local body over the county’s planning commission.

“I very much respect the congresswoman, but I was very disappointed to read misinformation coming from her in the newspaper. She sort of accused me of listening to a ‘hand-picked body.’ the municipal advisory council, that’s who she’s referring to, it’s a group with intimate familiarity with the coast, who live there and really want to steward the coast. Why would we want to expand development? This plan is the most restrictive local coastal plan in the history of the Sonoma coast.”

But if what she sees as faulty language hasn’t really caused harm, why change it?

“I don’t like having things on the books that does suggest we should move forward with developing these areas, because they really aren’t suited for development, especially in light of climate change.”

A final local coastal plan is expected to go before the board of supervisors in July. It would then be considered by the California Coastal Commission for final approval.


Marc Albert, KRCB Sonoma County News

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