I am publishing this here as a service to CPOA and the Big Sur community. I am not supporting or endorsing the positions advocated in this open letter, and in fact, personally disagree with the demographics issue. The population of Big Sur in the first decade of the 1900’s was approximately 1100, it remains about the same today, not including those whose existence here is basically “invisible.” While the boundaries of “Big Sur” in 1911 and 2011 may be different and population demographics may have changed also, these demographics are changing throughout the state, and the nation, and world-wide, not just here in Big Sur. I think there is a deeper issue that is not being presented.
Open Letter to Congressman Sam Farr
from the Coast Property Owners Association on the
Big Sur Management Unit Act 2/10/2011
Dear Congressman Farr,
CPOA’s bylaws state that the organization’s purpose “shall be to protect and defend the rural and residential character, and to preserve the natural and esthetic beauty of the Big Sur coast; to provide for the health, safety, and welfare of the Big Sur Community; to encourage community service and otherwise act in the interests of the residents and property owners of the community.” CPOA is committed to a collaborative approach towards responsible land
stewardship. CPOA believes that an effective partnership between private and public property owners is essential for a healthy and sustainable community.
This is the Mission of CPOA.
Congressman Farr, CPOA would like to support the reintroduction of the Big Sur Management Unit Act. However, after carefully considering the bill as it read when introduced during the last session of Congress, and the proposed amended version, CPOA’s board believes substantial changes are required.
CPOA is concerned about issues related to the long-term sustainability of our community. Some of these problems have been caused by previous federal legislation. For example, ongoing acquisition of land by the US Forest Service, and expansions of wilderness that have interfered with maintenance and use of firebreaks. Should the bill be written to solve these and other critical community issues, we believe it could be of great benefit to all of Big Sur. We have prepared a list of issues and proposed solutions that we hope you will include in the bill before it is introduced in this session of Congress (attached).
We would greatly appreciate an opportunity to work with you or your office on the specific wording of the bill.
Changes Proposed to the Big Sur Management Unit Act
by the Coast Property Owners Association (CPOA)
Background for the proposed changes:
In the 1980s, the Big Sur Coast Land Use Plan (LUP) was adopted, dramatically downzoning all of Big Sur. As a result, in areas west of Highway 1 the minimum parcel size for subdivisions is 40 acres. East of Highway 1 the minimum parcel size is based on slope, with most land having a minimum parcel size of 320 acres, and the smallest parcel possible by subdivision (on essentially flat land) is 40 acres. A coastal commission staff person has estimated there is potential for about 12 new parcels to be created by subdivision in the 234 square mile Big Sur coastal planning area. The LUP also contains a critical viewshed policy, which effectively precludes development visible from Highway 1 for most areas where the highway passes through Big Sur.
The LUP’s minimum parcel sizes and critical viewshed policy were calculated so that at total buildout, with all potential subdivisions completed and every parcel using the maximum development allowed, the rural and scenic character of the Big Sur area would be retained. These policies remain in place and continue to accomplish their intended purpose. Big Sur is not threatened with overdevelopment.
However, new threats have arisen in Big Sur since the LUP was written. Conservation groups have made millions of dollars by buying private land and reselling it to public agencies, including the US Forest Service. About 1/3 of the roughly 60,000 acres of private land that existed when the LUP was adopted in 1984, or about 20,000 acres, has been acquired by various agencies. Many in Big Sur are concerned about the community’s long-term survival if the acquisitions continue.
While there is money for agencies to acquire land, there seems to be little money for agencies to properly care for land once acquired. For example, some have criticized the loss of old growth Redwoods on public lands during the Basin Fire as being due to poor management of public land.
Related to the shortage of money to maintain public lands, several years ago the Forest Service advertised commercial uses for the 1,200 acre Brazil Ranch, which it acquired in 2002. One brochure described the ranch as a place for such events as “corporate retreats, film location, weddings and family reunions.” The concept was to
make the ranch a commercial enterprise to make money to help pay for maintenance. Local businesses expressed concern about unfair competition by the Forest Service, funded with their tax dollars, and commercial use of the Brazil Ranch was not consistent with local planning policies. The Forest Service has apparently stopped commercializing the ranch, but concern continues over this kind of competition with local businesses in the future.
There is a shortage of affordable workforce housing for people who work in Big Sur. The rising cost of land has contributed to this problem. Government agencies now own about 75 percent of the land in Big Sur. If government land were made available for low cost housing the situation might improve. Wilderness advocates have lobbied to expand wilderness close to and over critical firebreaks, hindering them from being maintained before fires, and from being used during fires, threatening Big Sur and other communities with being burned out when wildfires inevitably start.
CPOA includes a list of suggestions, which will be handed out at the BSMAAC meeting, but which is much too long to include here on my blog. For those interested, send me a private email, and I will forward them.