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Sonoma County's rugged coast


Sonoma County's coast will remain free of major new development, under a lengthy planning framework approved by the county's board of supervisors Monday. 

The action was largely bureaucratic--updating planning and zoning rules for parts of the county ultimately under control of the California Coastal Commission. Generally, counties have some, but not much leeway. Local coastal plans---written by each coastal county---can each have special rules, but generally can't be too permissive or too restrictive.

Former supervisor Peter Lebeck, urged officials to keep things as they are.

Lebeck recounted successfully dispatching plans for a nuclear power plant at Bodega Head and scaling back Sea Ranch before being told his time expired. He nevertheless continued.

"In the 70s, we passed overwhelmingly the California Coastal Act, which now you are responsible to update the county's coastal plan. I'd ask you not to screw it up!," Lebeck said, the audience bursting into applause.

The board seemed to take Lebeck's words to heart. Supervisors parried over nuances in wording, aiming to remove barriers to small scale farming and assure that ranchers can, for example, repair a fence without first obtaining a permit.

The question made more complex by some areas designated "environmentally sensitive habitat areas" or 'esh-ha's.'

Recent federal approval of a conceptual plan for a pumped energy hydro-electric power plant using seawater led officials to carefully draft clauses aimed at prohibiting the power plant. Scott Orr with Permit Sonoma read back the proposal.

"Prohibits facilities that support development or operation of offshore energy production facilities, prohibit industrial energy production facilities in the geologic hazard severity zone, without an amendment of this policy. Amendment of this policy shall not be effective till a majority of the voters in Sonoma county in a general or special election approve the proposed amendment."

The board also banned any new wastewater outflows into the Pacific to include the proposed hydro-plant.

That raised questions about unintended consequences, but Supervisor Lynda Hopkins received assurances the restrictions would not impact micro-grids---small local electric systems, or an aquaculture operation proposed by a local tribal nation.

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