Saying Good-bye to State Senator Bill Monning

Bill has been a legislative life line for Big Sur since the first days of this blog, during the Basin Fire of 2008. He has made himself available to me, personally, and the entire community on issues that impacted Big Sur. As a Carmel local he has known intimately our issues and our ways of being in this place. We, and I, will miss him terribly, but knowing Bill, he will be staying informed and active and still be available to us.

As my way of honoring all that he has done for us, I would like to publish here his senate report and retrospective sent to all of us on the BSMAAC mailing list prior to the meeting tomorrow (scroll down a few days for the notice and way to connect via zoom). Bill, we love you and will miss you. Thank you for everything you have done for us and this place we love.





November 6, 2020 


Dear Friends of the Big Sur Community and BSMCC participants:

I submit this 17 SD report with some highlights from my representation of the community during these past twelve years in the California State Assembly (2008-2012) and the California State Senate (2012-2020).  

First, I want to thank the community and its leaders for your engagement with me and my office.  We have joined together to face many challenges and have had the opportunity to celebrate a few victories.  Following is an attempt to capture some of those highlights:• Basin Complex/Indian Fires – Pfeiffer State Park Campgrounds- (2008-2009) During my campaign for the Assembly in 2008, Big Sur was hit by the Basin Complex/Indian fires which were followed by mudslides and debris flows.  As a result, the main access bridge to the Pfeiffer State Park campgrounds was damaged and removed.  In 2009, we started to work with State Parks to get a replacement bridge built.   Big Sur River Inn owner, Alan Perlmutter, was instrumental in pushing for the acquisition and transport of a Bailey Bridge (US Army Corp of Engineers’ design and reliable war and peace time “portable” bridge) which he located somewhere in the southern states.   The original response from State Parks was that the Bailey Bridge did not conform with acceptable state engineering design, etc.   We were able to move the engineers in Sacramento to accept the “temporary” use of the Bailey Bridge and the campgrounds re-opened on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend with a ribbon cutting and a line of cars and campers ready to enter the campgrounds.  Thanks to Alan for his investigations and advocacy!• Construction of Rain Rocks Shed and Pitkins Curve Bridge – (2014Early in my first Senate term, we also saw the completion of the Rain Rocks Shed and the Pitkins Curve Bridge in 2014.   In 2000, a massive landslide below the highway at Pitkins Curve took out both lanes and closed Highway 1 for 30 days. Restoration required removal of 100,000 cubic yards of landslide debris in 7,000 truckloads. The innovative design for the construction project minimized the number of truck loads for removal and utilized the shed/canopy/viaduct design more commonly seen in European road construction and maintenance.   This project helped to minimize closures at the Pitkins curve area that had been regular occurrences with the steep grade and frequent landslide activity. • Big Sur California Coastal Trail (BSCCT) – (2009-present) Shortly after I took office, I started to meet with the Big Sur California Coastal Trail Committee.   I quickly learned of the history of the state legislation to build a coastal trail from the Oregon border to Mexico and a conflict that had developed between the local community and the state regarding vision, design, and inclusion of a local voice in the statewide planning.  With the leadership of many in the local community including that of Mike Caplin & Pam Peck, Butch & Patte Kronlund, CPOA/CABS, Pamela Silkwood, Mary Trotter, Betty Withrow, Dick Ravich, John & Corinne Handy, Honey Williams, and so many others, we were able to establish recognition for a local voice in the trail planning process.  Successful efforts included funding for development of a community-designed and managed Coastal Trail website (with Coast Walk) and the development of coastal planning groups organized by regional sectors from the Carmel Highlands to the SLO County line.  While much remains to be done, it is my hope that the engagement of multiple stakeholders from government to private landowners and from local residents to local, state, and federal agencies will continue to forge a path (quite literally) to establishment of a coastal trail that can serve the interests residents, visitors, and local businesses while preserving the natural beauty and integrity of this coastal paradise. In a recent phone conference with representatives of the BSCCT committee and the California Coastal Commission, we were able to reaffirm shared commitments and outline some next steps for coordination and planning. • More fires, floods, and storms (2016) After recovery from the Basin Complex and Indian fires in 2008, Big Sur was hit once again by the 2016 Soberanes Fire that was started by an illegal open campfire at Garrapata and which grew to become one of the largest fires in the history of California (at the time) and the most expensive to contain and suppress.  Tragically, a tractor operator, ROBERT REAGAN III, perished in the early days of the fire.  I was able to memorialize his service and loss on the State Senate floor and communicate that adjournment resolution to his family who live in the Fresno area.  

While close to 60 homes were lost in the Soberanes fire, many others were saved thanks to the combined work of Big Sur Fire, Mid Coast Fire Brigade, USFS, Cal Fire, Monterey County Sheriffs Dept, CHP, and related agencies with support from the El Sur Ranch, the Post Ranch and many others. But, as was expected, following the large burn of thousands of acres, the ensuing rains in December and January of 2016/17 led to flooding and erosion that included the undermining of the foundations of the Pfeiffer Bridge built in 1960.  

I would also like to recognize the incredible work of the CPOA (now CABS) in establishing a fund to help those who lost their homes in coordination with the Community Foundation for Monterey County. • Loss of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge – January 2017 In the wake of the Soberanes fire, rains brought flooding, debris flow, and land movement to Big Sur.  The Pfeiffer Bridge was deemed threatened in January of 2017 and traffic flow limited. The bridge was then ruled to be unsafe for all vehicles and was closed to all traffic in early February.   The closure and eventual removal of the bridge, left parts of Big Sur isolated.  

Once again, we engaged State Parks, Cal Trans, and others to seek construction of a temporary foot path/trail to connect the Multi Agency Complex with the area south of the Pfeiffer Bridge gap.   We were originally told that the project from design to approval to funding could take up to 7 years!  This for the trail only, not the bridge! 

We pushed with the support of community leaders and with the great support of local businesses, community volunteers, and the California Conservation Corps (CCC),the trail was built within 7-8 weeks from the closure of the Pfeiffer Bridge!  This trail allowed residents and workforce to trans-navigate the gap and created an interesting social dynamic of land owner and hourly wage worker walking together and crossing paths along the trail.  

It was not uncommon to see residents and workers carrying heavy loads along the trail and its steep 400 foot climb—from cases of beer to small refrigerator units and groceries, the trail became a primary passage for commerce!  For many, the trail provided a lifeline between south and north including for students who could catch their Carmel bound school buses every morning. We understand that some students were able to receive PE credits for their morning and afternoon hikes along the trail to and from the bus stop! 

With Highway One closed at Pfeiffer Canyon, the highway south of the gap became a new space where locals could walk, bike ride, and sometimes party!  The community spirit that embraced and adapted to the closure was classic Big Sur—the community where rugged individualists often fight over local, state, and federal policies comes together in times of crisis.  

The Soberanes Fire and the loss of the Pfeiffer Bridge resulted in an amazing level of community cooperation, mutual support, and cross sectoral engagement that will hopefully be a large part of the memories of those tough times. 

And, while the trail provided a temporary lifeline, Cal Trans and state engineers moved forward to design, contract for, and construct the new Pfeiffer Bridge in a record seven months’ time (and $25 million in construction costs) for opening on October 13, 2017.  

There were hundreds of community volunteers and government agency personnel who helped secure the emergency trail and the expedited bridge construction, but let me acknowledge a few of them including: Martin Panofax, Post Ranch; Mike Freed, Post Ranch, the Chappellet family; the Gafill family and Nepenthe; Brent Marshall, State Parks; John Hiles, State Parks (trail guru); Butch and Patte Kronlund, Coast Property Owners Association (CPOA/now CABS); Martha Karstens and Big Sur Fire; Frank Pinney; the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce; USFS; Big Sur Inn; Big Sur River Inn; Alan Perlmutter; Rick Aldinger; Ken and Mary Wright; Tobias Uptain-Villa; Nicole (Charles) Hollingsworth; Bethany Westfall; and SO MANY others.  Thank you and MIL GRACIAS!  • Recognition of Nepenthe Restaurant as Senator Monning’s Small Business of the Year (2017) I was honored to recognize the Nepenthe Restaurant, the Gafills/Fassetts and Nepenthe family for their extraordinary support during the closure of Highway One in 2017.  Kirk & Meredith Gafill, and their son, Will, joined us in Sacramento for the ceremony and I was later able to present the Senate Resolution to Lolly Fassett as well in the Nepenthe Dining Room.  I’ve included the text of our press release below which captures the essence of Nepenthe’s service during the Pfeiffer Bridge closure:    

(SACRAMENTO, CA) – Today, Senator Bill Monning (D-Carmel) will recognize the Big Sur restaurant Nepenthe as his 2017 Small Business of the Year.  The restaurant’s owner, Kirk Gafill, will be honored at the California Small Business Day Luncheon at the Sheraton Hotel in Sacramento, California.

“Nepenthe has been a landmark in the Big Sur community for 68 years,” said Senator Monning.  “This year Mr. Gafill and his staff have gone above and beyond by playing a leadership role in aiding the community after the unexpected closure of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.  They worked tirelessly to helped locals stay informed about the situation and worked to find solutions.  In addition, they donated 10 percent of their profits to community services organizations.  It is my honor to recognize Nepenthe as the Senate District 17 2017 Small Business of the Year.”

Since its establishment in 1947 along the coast of Highway One, Nepenthe has been family owned and operated, and has been a draw to artists, locals, and tourists alike. 

When the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge was suddenly closed this past February, Nepenthe worked closely with the Coast Property Owners’ Association to airlift food into Big Sur for over 450 stranded residents; coordinated distribution and storage of one ton of donated non-perishable food, including diapers and soap; and provided material support for a satellite school for 40 children who could not attend school due to the road closure.

Additionally, Nepenthe established a Carmel office staffed by its senior management team to maintain regular communications with its 120 displaced employees, assisting them in filing for unemployment insurance benefits, helping them to secure new jobs for the interim period, and using its social media network to provide daily updates on road closures, weather conditions, and critical information for locals and potential visitors.   • Big Sur Tourism, Traffic, and Bathrooms– (2008-present)

We all know that tourism is the primary source of income for local businesses, their employees, and for manyresidents.  But many believe we have reached a tipping point with the Bixby Bridge the most shared/visited photo of a tourist destination on the internet – globally!   With this inordinate amount of international publicity, it is no surprise that an increasing number of tourists see Big Sur as an ultimate destination… a destination that is on the top of many people’s “bucket list”.

The attraction of Big Sur with its natural beauty, its coastline, and its history is why residents have decided to make it their home.  But as a consequence of unprecedented numbers of visitors, we have all learned first hand the meaning of “carrying capacity” and wondered what that might be for Big Sur? 

As a result, CPOA/CABS, the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, and many others have pulled together to commission studies on how best to maintain a sustainable tourist destination. 

The CPOA (now CABS) sponsored the Big Sur Sustainable Destination Stewardship Management Plan and the Big Sur Pledge to educate visitors regarding their responsibility to be good stewards.  Cal Trans conducted the Sustainable Transportation Demand Management Plan for Highway One; and the ParkIt Group represents a coalition of organizations and individuals studying shuttle and parking options for Pt Lobos, Palo Corona, and the San Jose Creek Trail.

And, one of the recurring and ongoing problems that comes with increased visitation to Big Sur Coast is the need for more public bathrooms as a public health imperative and to reduce and eliminate the use of road sides and turn outs for urination and defecation. Ongoing discussions have led to some better mapping of available rest room facilities; the agreement by State Parks and the U.S. Forest Service for travelers to access bathrooms without having to pay entry fees to parks; and the pursuit of resources and authorization to build new, permanent rest room facilities at Garrapata State Park.  

All of these efforts recognize the challenges of reaching consensus with residents and engaging with multiple county, state, and federal agencies. But it has been the determination, persistence, and dedication of so many community volunteers that slow progress continues to be made.• The River, Carmel, Dolan, Coleman fires of 2020 – With continued dry weather and high winds, California has continued to suffer from wildfires at a tremendous cost to the State and horrific and tragic losses to residents. In the 17th Senate District, more than 1,000 residents lost their homes (this includes the Santa Cruz mountain fires- CZU Complex Fire).  Once again, the coordinated response of multiple agencies helped minimize losses while facing the challenge of limited resources and changing weather patterns. Fortunately, most of the Big Sur Coastal communities were protected from extensive structure loss and no reported loss of life. Once again, our Senate District 17 staff in coordination with Congressman Panetta, Senator Caballero, Assemblymember Rivas, and Supervisor Adams were able to coordinate with FEMA, State OES, Monterey County OES and impacted residents to secure emergency support and long term assistance.• California Wildlife Day -Spring Equinox every year -Senate Concurrent Resolution 23 – 

Inspired by Loren Latendre (Chair, Carmel River Watershed Conservancy), and Beverly Eyre, I introduced a California State Resolution to designate the Spring Equinox each year as California Wildlife Day.   For the past three years, Loren and the Carmel Rivershed Conservancy, along with Monterey County Regional Parks, and others have organized presentations and exhibits that have included children’s educational activities and a focus on wildlife, native plants, and our precious natural habitat. Thanks to Loren and Beverly for spearheading this official California day of recognition. SENATE CONCURRENT RESOLUTION 23 – “Designates the Spring Equinox of every year as California Wildlife Day to help to educate the public about the importance of protecting and nurturing the state’s wildlife, as well as to increase the public’s awareness about the need to protect, restore and care for our natural resources.” (Resolution Chapter 16, Statutes of 2017)• Arts and Culture – the soul and spirit of Big Sur

While local businesses provide multiple services from dining to housing, it has been the local arts community through the decades that has drawn writers, artists, musicians, and others to the magic that is Big Sur.  And, before the modern day immigrants, the heritage of the Esselen, Costanoan, Ohlone, Salinian, and Chumash tribes who cared for the lands and left their mark on artifacts and the arts. From Henry Miller and the Doners, to the Fassetts and the Gafills, to the Beats and Jack Kerouac & Lawernce Ferlenghetti; from the Henry Miller Library led by Magnus Toren to the Coastlands Gallery and the Phoenix Shop; from Esalen to Treebones to Lucia and Gorda; from Sykes and Barlow to the Hermitage and Tassajara; from the purple sands of Sycamore Canyon Beach to the trails, cabins, land & sea, flora and fauna, it is Big Sur that is art in motion as it inspires, harbors, comforts, and sometimes hurts those who visit and those who stay. (Note: the lyrics from Bixby Canyon Bridge by Ben Gibbard and Death Cab for Cutie are attached at the end of this report as a reward for any who read all the way through!)

Thank you, each and all, for the honor and privilege of representing the people, the land, and the coast of Big Sur since 2008!

Some special shout outs:  I want to thank my staff who were instrumental in all of my work on behalf of the Big Sur Community including Nicole (Charles) Hollingsworth, Colleen Courtney, Tobias Uptain-Villa, and Bethany Westfall. And, a shout out as well for the work and collaboration of Kathleen Lee during her tenure with both 5th District Supervisor Dave Potter and Congressman Jimmy Panetta. And, to Congressman Jimmy Panetta & Katie Moon;  Assemblymember Robert Rivas & Dominc Dursa; Supervisor Mary Adams & Yuri Anderson and to Leon Panetta, Fred Farr, and Sam Farr for their vision and leadership that helped to protect the Big Sur Coast. And, to all the BSMAAC partners and participants from federal, state, and county agencies to residents, business owners, and regular participants. Special thanks also to Big Sur Kate (Kate Novoa) for helping to keep us always informed on Big Sur road and fire conditions and to all who make up the social fabric that makes Big Sur such a special, special place.

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