1982 Big Sur Land Use Plan, revisited

The Big Sur Land Use Plan was passed in 1982, and is still the controlling document until a new one is developed and passed by the California Coastal Commission.

Here are some relevant Big Sur Land Use plan sections regarding housing, which are currently controlling, that we might want to review as we look at possibly changing direction. This plan currently controls what we do and what we hope to do. If you want to see it changed, come to the LUAC meetings each Monday.

I have only pulled out a few relevant portions. I have a hard copy I have read many times … Somewhere. This copy is digital and now lives on my iPad. I can copy and paste. I LOVE technological advances!

This is where we were 31 years ago. Where are we now? Where do we want to be?

“The major features of the Plan are to:
o Guide all future planning decisions for County and State agencies, and set direction for the U. S. Forest Service in its planning.
o Show the kinds, locations, and intensities of land uses allowed, therefore, serving as a basis of zoning and other implementing actions.
o Present policies concerning land development and environmental protection and management.
o Call for management of Highway 1 and all other governmental activities on the Coast.
o Set forth detailed review procedures for all applications based on a permit review process.
o Set forth a system for coordinating the actions of all involved government agencies.
o Provide an environmental resource management data base to support the plan and future planning decisions and provide for the periodic updating of this information.
o Identify the urgent need for financial assistance to the County in preserving Big Sur’s natural resources and cultural heritage. Funds are specifically needed to protect scenic views and to provide public access.”


The Big Sur Coast Citizens Advisory Committee in providing guidance to the County established the basic philosophy and goals upon which this plan is based. In its report to the County entitled, Philosophy and Goals for Planning, the Committee stated:

The scenic beauty of the Big Sur Coast, and the opportunity to escape urban patterns, are prime attractions for residents and visitors alike. Man-made improvements detract from the near-wilderness attributes of the area if not individually, then collectively.

Quality should have precedence over quantity of any permitted uses, whether residential, recreational, or commercial. Any new development should remain within the small-scale, traditional and rural values of the area, rather than to introduce new or conflicting uses.

Land use planning and management policies should be directed towards maintenance and restoration of Big Sur’s remaining rural and wilderness character. Without compromising its character or depleting its resources, the area should be accessible to as many as can be accommodated.

The special cultural characteristics of the Big Sur Coast should also be recognized as a primary resource. Man’s presence along this coast continues to reflect a pioneering attitude of independence and resourcefulness; the environment has been a special nurturing ground for individual and creative fulfillment. The community itself and its traditional way of life that can help to protect the environment and enhance the visitor experience.”

“There are approximately 1100 parcels in private ownership on the Big Sur coast, ranging in size from less than an acre to several thousands of acres. Approximately 700 parcels are vacant, and 370 parcels are occupied. Many have more than one unit on them, either residential or commercial. Small parcels of 2.5 acres or less are generally located near the highway or in one of several areas subdivided in the past for residential purposes. Palo Colorado Canyon, Garrapatos Redwoods, Rocky Point, the Big Sur Valley, Coastlands, and Partington Ridge are among the areas having the greatest number of developed parcels.

Approximately half of the Big Sur coastal zone is in public ownership by the U. S. Forest Service, the State Department of Parks and Recreation, the U. S. Navy, the U. S. Coast Guard, and the University of California. If public acquisitions now contemplated or in progress are completed, approximately 60% of the coast will be publicly owned. Some of the private lands have scenic easements or deed restrictions which limit the level of development.

5.1.1 Residential Land Use

The 1976 mid-decade census recorded approximately 800 housing units, of which about 600 were permanent single family dwellings. A large proportion of these home are located in the several residential areas listed. These areas have generally been developed to a level where the natural environment is perceived to have been significantly altered, and where residential use is very apparent on the land. The size and density of these residential areas varies, but in all cases, they are more densely developed than surrounding lands. They contain a significant number of subdivided and residentially zoned lots in close proximity, yet do not contain resources or land use activities which generate significant employment services for the public. While there are historic expectations that buildout of these areas would proceed, a number of areas are not suitable for full development of all existing parcels because of conflicts with the broad objective of this plan – particularly the protection of water and scenic resources or limited capacity of local roads.
Restoration projects, discussed under the implementation (section of the plan will be needed in several of the areas to reduce developmental potential or to provide improved water supplies.
The significance of the residential areas for planning purposes is that they have the capacity, to some extent, to accommodate additional residential demand. Unlike the larger properties or commercial centers, they are not well suited for commercial agriculture, commercial, or visitor uses; use of these areas, to the extent consistent with resource protection, should continue to be for residential purposes.

Residential areas include: Otter Cove, Garrapata Ridge/Rocky Point, Garrapata and Palo Colorado Canyon, Bixby Canyon, Pfeiffer Ridge, Sycamore Canyon, Coastlands, Partington Ridge, and Buck Creek to Lime Creek. The Big Sur Valley, Lucia and Gorda also have significant residential use, although the primary function of these areas are community service and visitor-serving commercial facilities.

The mid-decade census provided considerable information concerning the need for low and moderate income housing on the coast. Of the housing units in the area, 17% were vacant due to being second homes. Only 1.3% were vacant and available, at that time, for sale or for rent. The census revealed that less than half of the occupied units were owner-occupied and that of all the units, 91% were single families. The census also estimated a median household income of $9,785. A transportation study inventory revealed 423 persons employed in the area, one third in eating, drinking, and lodging places, and one third in government (military, Forest Service, etc.). Building Inspections Department records show the average cost-of construction for a single family unit on the Big Sur coast, the unincorporated Peninsula area, and the Carmel Valley, was $36,000 in 1970 and rose to $107,000 in 1979. This factor alone precludes low and moderate income persons and median income households from homeownership. The 1970 housing inventory identified 215 “Substandard” units and 109 units as “Conservation Feasible” in the Big Sur area. These figures indicate that some households may need assistance to meet the national and state goal of “a safe, decent, and sanitary house.”

A serious housing shortage exists for employees in Big Sur, particularly in the visitor industry. Because there is little housing available, employees have at times been forced to camp-out, live in cars, or move in with friends. The shortage of affordable housing has also made recruitment of skilled employees difficult. Several factors affect solutions to the housing problems: the costs of land and housing precludes the use of traditional housing assistance programs; and year-round employment is not at a high enough level to support traditional single and multiple family housing projects. Employee housing provided by an employer must be a primary source of affordable housing in the area. Caretaker housing, which has traditionally provided shelter for many long-time residents and employees, will also continue to be an important element of the affordable housing supply.

American philosopher George Santayana (1863-1952) actually said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (from “Life of Reason I”).

Tomorrow, I would like to request position papers from all sides. Each side can write it together and submit it as a group, or individuals can submit to me at kwnovoa@mac.com, and I will choose the clearest, most concise position paper from each side to publish. I would ask that each one be limited to 250 words. I would suggest you work together and submit one essay that most clearly presents the majority opinion for your position. One way to expand upon this position paper is to have a link to a site that provides additional solutions to the issue and ways to resolve without involving County intervention.

6 thoughts on “1982 Big Sur Land Use Plan, revisited

  1. Some places should be exclusive and should remain exclusive. Big Sur is one of them. As a native Californian I want to see at least a few places left in the state where section 8 (or the like) housing is not mandated or encouraged. The residents of Big Sur are the best custodians of our coast Californians could pray for. If we are lucky the natural and man made landscape will be preserved as it is now for generations to come.

  2. Pretty scary read. It has the feeling of a thorough medical exam by an entire hospital staff (who have yet to shake your hand or say hello) trying to figure out what’s wrong with you and where the devices should get put.
    On the other hand, the self-protecting geography of Big Sur works much in its favor. Though drooling lust may set the developer’s heart beating, it is simply a difficult place to live but for the devoted hardy. Where are they thinking, what cliffside. Or seized land that’s been in private ownership. But for whom.
    Housing is a massive problem for everyone not snuggled in. And then the snuggles can alter even after half a century if the land goes to city dwelling children eager to sell.
    The large employers would be wise to build some small on-property accommodations for their staff at least, off on the south forty…but actually LIVEABLE. None of them, to my knowledge, have. I got hired at a place about fifteen years ago and was on the waiting list for a really horrific tent where ‘we house our employees’. It’s a very la-te-dah bunch. They expect staff to live under trees, in moldy trailers, or in their cars. And they will. Or it takes every penny to live somewhere–with multitudinous problems. It’s that cruelty which needs addressing, too.
    If there were some really inventive Buckminster Fuller kind of person who actually understood the glories of wild places and the benefit to a handful of humans in it and the benefit to the wild place comingled, well then there we are. I don’t understand why yurts, not considered permanent and immune from a lot of regulations, haven’t popped up everywhere. They are actually an abode. Make the too easy brick and mortar development dreams morph into an eccentricity the place deserves.

  3. Love the yurt solution! Why not a small ‘yurt village’ with community kitchen and bath facilities, AKA ‘TreeBones model’, for Ventana, Post Ranch, and Eselen Institute? In other words… the larger the employee need, the larger the providership. Smaller business employers maybe work a deal to house their seasonal employees in these as an option. Maybe an additional clause to the effect of hiring local residents first… loyalty to the land keepers. What do you think?

  4. In 1982 short term rentals were determined by some authority to be prohibited in Big Sur. The basis for the prohibition? Unknown.
    What was the rationale supporting the ban? Does a record exist of the proceedings that produced this result? Is anyone available who participated in this decision?
    Was public safety or any public interest a concern? Or was it private greed seeking to insure an existing accommodations monopoly? Did local residents ever have a say in the matter? Why was Big Sur treated differently in this regard than Carmel or Peble Beach?
    1980 saw Congressional effort to make Big Sur a national park. The matter narrowly died in the Senate. Thereafter, commissions, planning panels, and advisory groups were created to deal with the future of Big Sur, and somewhere in all that the rental prohibition became fact. But how was it decided that such rentals would compromise the character of Big Sur or its resources? Is the ban contrary to the announced philosophy that “the area should be accessible to as many as can be accommodated”?
    There are some 260 apparantly permitted short term rentals in Big Sur. That’s what Ventana and Post Ranch and Deetjens and Glen Oaks and others really are. Probably 1/3 of them demand several hundred dollars for an overnight stay. Who is being accommodated? Are their rates in keeping with the character of Big Sur?
    I’ve long lived in Big Sur. I see certain of my neighbors offering short term rentals. They seem to take pride in this, and it’s obvious the occasional income is appreciated. I admire their entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Their guests seem to treat Big Sur with more respect than some long term rental residents whose driving habits are a menace and whose exhibited concern and care for property leaves much to be desired.
    All in all, I don’t see that short term rentals threaten Big Sur in any way. It’s not 1982 anymore. Live and let live, people!

  5. Rather than worry about “workforce housing” for private enterprise, the major employers in Big Sur should pay for and operate a shuttle bus system to get their employees to and from the Peninsula with a schedule to accomodate their needs.

  6. Re: short term rentals

    I completely agree with Santayana that “those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” I’m so old I remember Big Sur before Mid Century was a furniture style and type of architecture advertised on Craigslist. And I remember what Big Sur was like…Kudos to all who have fought the denizens of progress to keep our home as wild as it is.

    But there is a second quote I’d like us to remember:

    The law of unintended consequences pushes us ceaselessly through the years, permitting no pause for perspective.

    A number of years ago, many Big Sur residents signed a petition to prohibit short term rentals, with the belief that such activity was undermining the fabric of our community. Much has changed since that time, but the pressure on our community has continued unabated. In those years, absentee ownership has increased dramatically. Such ownership does create more privacy, less traffic and lower fire hazard. But I’m not sure many of us would espouse Big Sur becoming like Carmel. Many folks who can afford to stay in their homes only by offering them as vacation rentals are keeping locals in Big Sur.

    Short term rentals aren’t the problem…The problem is losing the integrity of our community. In fact a certain type of short-term rental actually protect and enhance our community, when their owners respect the concerns of the neighbors, are able to upgrade their properties, and can share them with quiet guests who are in awe of our region.

    Before I turned my home into a vacation rental. I had neighbors whose long term tenants had totally trashed their home. My long-term tenants had let the landscaping go so the fire hazard was extreme…I didn’t want to sell my home but I couldn’t afford to simply move into my home; so I tried vacation rentals. Now I live on the property, hire local gardeners, housekeepers and repair people. I cannot afford to provide housing for local businesses, but I can employ local residents who would otherwise have to travel to town or remain unemployed.

    For years residents of our neighborhood argued about road improvements, one group wanting to upgrade, the other wanting to keep it old school…Last year 5 of us who rent our homes paid $10,000 for repairs and maintenance on the road ending the years long stalemate. No long-term landlords participated, even though total trips on our road over the year is much higher with long-term renters.

    If we could take a deep breath and remember that the problems we are trying to solve and complex and not easily resolved by banning something, we will be in a much better position to address them as a community, not as opponents…We all want the same basic things. Here’s hoping we can craft solutions that actually get us there.

    Tony Wolff

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