It is the opening bell of summer tourist season, and it was nuts out there. I plan to hide out, personally, until Tuesday. Traffic is horrific, the Valley is full … Rooms, restaurants, bars, roads … all full. Even here, on the South Coast, the campgrounds are full. Even the currently divisive STRs (short-term rentals) are reportedly full. We do have a big celebrity wedding in town, bringing international attention, lots of guests, and much media. (I saw 2 stopping traffic this afternoon. Google Napster, Sean Parker, Big Sur Wedding, and you will see what I mean.)
It is weekends like this one that make me glad the USFS hasn’t graded my road. This may be the biggest argument against short-term rentals yet, and one which is not being made. When is it too much? How many is too much? Do we overload our resources when we, potentially, ALL engage in providing ways for more and more people to be here? If we fill every private property with all the visitors it can hold, do we change the nature of Big Sur?
I’ve always thought that Big Sur was able to protect herself. She is so rugged and tough, only those who are like her survive here. But now, we are encouraging more and more people to come here who are not as rugged and tough as she is. How will that impact her? Are we trying to “soften” her? To bend her to our will? If so, will she bend, or will she break? If either, what remains of the Big Sur we know and love?
When I moved to Orange County a century ago, it was all strawberry fields and Orange Groves. It was rural. Then it became the bedroom community of Los Angeles. Then it became Los Angeles. Big Sur will not support the build out that happened down south, there simply isn’t enough private land. BUT, we ARE being squeezed between LA and SF. there will be more and more demand for temporary housing here, i.e. STRs or VRBOs. Each private property owner will be encouraged by peer pressure, neighbors, financial considerations, and general population demographics, to make sure they have those three allowable buildings, and maybe even a few illegal ones.
Businesses are loving the increased level of tourism. I don’t blame them. Lots of revenue. Making money to put away to get through the next rough winter and potential road closures. I get that, and know those challenges. However, I moved here to get away from the kind of madness that puts making money so one can stay here, play here, grow here, or die here, above the insidious encroachment of mankind on Mother Nature. I saw it down south. I see it again here, just taking a slightly different form.
Everyone wants to get away from urban sprawl, traffic, density, at some point, for some period of time, but at what point do our guests start bringing it with them due to the shear numbers? Fortunately, I am still able to remove myself from this influence. I knew we would be squeezed, and my best possible chance of avoiding another Orange County was to move to the Wilderness, on a large tract of land, surrounded by National Forest. In Orange County when I moved to the country with a natural creek only 5 doors down and an orange grove across the street, others wanted to join me, and both were soon gone. So Cal mentality is encroaching. I know. I grew up there. I am watching it happen. I hope It doesn’t. It is my hope that we choose to let Big Sur be who she really is, and not not try to change her by our inadvertence. The unintended consequences of our current actions may come back to bite our children and grandchildren in the ass, not too mention taming a land which has always refused to be tamed. Are we going to be known as the generation who does that? That is certainly not the legacy I want to leave behind.
So Memorial Day is upon us, our numbers have tripled or quadrupled, in some cases, and the pressure of that sudden population explosion has come to my home, the love of my life, Big Sur. bear with me. I’ll get over it, at least by next winter!