Destination Stewardship Management Plan for Big Sur Sur on BOS for Tuesday, 12/1

I have had some trouble with this management plan since I first got the questionaire which was ill-designed and clearly biased, in my opinion. The resultant draft suffered from these same flaws. It has been difficult for me to articulate clearly, beyond the survey, where the difficulties lie, beyond the obvious. I found this letter expressed my own views.

Last night I was sent the following letter, which puts my concerns in an articulate form, written by a man with broad and long experience in the field of Land Management, who teaches this at UC Davis, and who has written around 100 articles on these subjects. I spoke with him at length last night, about our issues, and the same ones. Marin, where he lives, faces as well.

Today, I sent this letter to the Board of Supervisors to be included in the official record of tomorrow’s hearing. It is long, but well worth your time if you care about the future of Big Sur.

This is the link to the Zoom Meeting of the Board of Supervisors for Tuesday. This item is number 15 on the agenda, and on the item there are links to the draft plan, the agreement between CABS and MCCVB for creating this draft, and other links one might be interested in.

Meeting Agenda

From Supervisor Adams’s office:

It isn’t set up on the agenda for action, just a presentation. I don’t believe it is a document that the County needs to “approve.” I expect they will take public comment, though, and it is an opportunity for the community to share their views on the DSP.

8 thoughts on “Destination Stewardship Management Plan for Big Sur Sur on BOS for Tuesday, 12/1

  1. Thank you Kate. I agree this letter says it better than any I’ve seen. I hope the Board of Supervisors and the DSP folks actually “listen” to Johnson’s thinking. Many of us have tried to get these points across during the process but they seem to be summarily dismissed. Bias indeed!

  2. Right On!!! Mr. Johnston calls out the bias of “ the need for more tourists” and how to accommodate them rather than adhering to what is supposed to be the controlling law, if you will, of not allowing Use to mar the environment. This letter from someone so eminently qualified is a marvelous gift to Big Sur, and provides a beacon of light on a path that has been pushed aside: preservation! Conservation! Thank you Kate for bringing awareness of these issues to all of us and the public at large, for publishing this letter, and for the Zoom info. And while I’m all in on limiting tourism as opposed to promoting it, I believe we still desperately need more bathroom facilities along the coast now, irrespective of future policy

  3. Thank you Robert for getting involved, and thank you Kate for reaching out to our Big Sur Community once again via bigsurkate and spreading the word!

  4. Thank you Thankyou…I found the survey to be creepily pro tourist facility expansion… that which stifles the indigenous natural world.. methinks.

  5. (Here is an email I sent you just now but might as well post for all to read. Thanks, Kate!)

    Dear Kate,

    Thanks for reaching out. I appreciate the forward and have read Mr. Johnston’s letter. I am very familiar with pp. 31 – 43 of the DSP as those are the pages I wrote. The services I provided to BGT were to provide the background and relevance of key Big Sur plans such as the LCP, the CHMP, and the TDM. I also contributed to the housing section. This said, I am wondering if Mr. Johnston actually read the DSP? I say this with both seriousness and some frustration. While I very much appreciate Mr. Johnston’s distinction between “accommodating tourism growth” and “managing tourism and its impacts,” if you look only to the Executive Summary, the DSP was drafted “to plan for Big Sur’s future by taking action to manage visitation and tourism…” References to the LUP in the Executive Summary reinforce the need to “optimize rather than maximize visitor use levels…” The Executive Summary explicitly states that “the increase in visitors in more recent years has led to growing recognition of the pressing need to better manage visitation in Big Sur.” A “key question” is identified in the Executive Summary: “How visitation can be managed in a way that protects Big Sur’s most precious attribute – its natural environment – while benefiting the local quality of life for its residents.” I include this last quote because for me it was critical that the community and the natural environment were at the center of this work. I would not have participated otherwise.

    In regards to the section I wrote (Big Sur Plans, p. 31), Mr. Johnston states Key Policy 6.1.3 is absent from the DSP. He writes, “This draft plan says that it is partially based on the Local Coastal Program (1986) but omits critical parts including the policy (6.1.3) that says “public overuse” will not be allowed to “mar” the health of the environment.” Contrary to his assertion, on pages 33 and 34 of the DSP, I quote Key Policy 6.1.3 in its entirety.

    As you may well know, this section of the LUP is challenging. It is at the root of disagreement between the community and the California Coastal Commission, for example. For that reason, I follow Key Policy 6.1.3 with a quote from Karin Strasser Kauffman which I believe embodies the intent of this policy at the time of adoption. I write:

    “What was ultimately adopted is a plan to protect, provide, and manage public access in order to enhance the visitor experience while assuring preservation of the natural environment, the need to ensure public safety, and to protect the rights of private property owners. Key Policy 6.1.3 states:

    ‘The rights of access to the shoreline, public lands, and along the coast, and opportunities for recreational hiking access, shall be protected, encouraged, and enhanced. Yet because preservation of the natural environment is the highest priority, all future access must be consistent with this objective. Care must be taken that while providing public access, the beauty of the coast, its tranquility and the health of its environment are not marred by public overuse or carelessness. The protection of visual access should be emphasized throughout Big Sur as an appropriate response to the needs of recreationists. Visual access shall be maintained by directing all future development out of the viewshed. The protection of private property rights must always be of concern.’ (Monterey County Planning, 1986)

    Karin Strasser Kauffman, the Monterey County Supervisor representing Big Sur at the time of adoption, described public access to the Los Angeles Times as, ‘We encourage people to pass through. We want them to have a stunning – but brief – experience. We want to protect what people value most about Big Sur – just to stand on the coast, make a full-circle turn and look at nature in every direction.’ (Brooks, 2017)”

    Mr. Johston’s letter then moves into Highway 1 capacity – another critical component of the LUP. He writes, “In general, the DSP slants its analysis away from an examination of development constraints and highway congestion to assumptions about the need for more tourists.” Again, I am not sure where this is stated or inferred. Carrying capacity is addressed on pages 36 and 37 where I write, “‘The BSLUP recognizes ‘the Coastal Act’s goal of encouraging public recreational use and enjoyment of the coast while ensuring that the very resources that make the coast so valuable for human enjoyment are not spoiled.’ (Monterey County Planning, 1986) Limitations are placed on the numbers of campground sites, lodging facilities, and residences. The density standards within the BSLUP are designed to protect ‘the capacity of Highway One to accommodate recreational use, the avoidance of overuse in areas of the coast, and the need for development to respect the rural character of the Big Sur Coast and its many natural resources.” (Monterey County Planning, 1986)

    The “honest accounting of the existing limits to building new overnight accommodations (motel rooms, campgrounds), the fixed road capacity, and how aesthetics additionally limits the numbers of tourists that are acceptable in each locality” that Mr. Johnston expects from the DSP is precisely what the LUP does. Such restrictions and protections already (thankfully) exist.

    I could go on. Accusations are leveraged about housing, STRs, traffic, and development that I unfortunately do not have time to address today. My recommendation is two fold – please read the DSP and please, as the document concludes, improve upon the document. Show up to the Board Meeting tomorrow via Zoom and make it better. At this point it should be clear that BGT didn’t have an ulterior motive – they did their work, packed up and left. Now the plan is in Big Sur’s hands. If there is something of value there, use it, improve it, and make it work for the community.

    Big Sur is in a crisis of epic proportions when it comes to the impacts of tourism on both the environment and the community. Mr. Johnston’s letter distracts from that concern and diverts attention away from the opportunity tomorrow’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting affords.

    With respect, 


  6. Beyond Green Travel’s response to Robert Johnston’s critique of the Big Sur Destination Stewardship Plan below. B.K.

    : Letter from Mr. Robert Johnston on Big Sur Destination Stewardship Plan

    While Mr. Johnston took the time to share his qualifications to comment on the DSP, which is appreciated and welcome, much of his professional background represents a more traditional approach to land use planning popular in the 1970s (he cites several examples of his work from the 1970s), as well as his work in urban growth models in later years, writing and publishing papers, and noting that as a retired academic he also now sits on the board of two local non-profits. With that in mind, we include here a recap of the professional qualifications of the Beyond Green Team: Research that resulted in the publication, Tourism and Biodiversity: Mapping Tourism’s Global Footprint, published by Conservation International and the United Nations Environment Programme, along with many other articles and white papers on tourism and its impacts on nature and communities, appearances in documentaries, serving as Senior Advisors to National Geographic and The World Travel and Tourism Council, chapters in academic books and journals (including a pending peer reviewed synthesis paper with two UC Berkeley professors) as well as having helped to establish the United Nations standards and criteria for sustainable tourism that has also been adopted by the Convention on Biological Diversity. Beyond Green Travel pioneered concepts in Destination Stewardship and, as recognized experts in the field of tourism management and destination stewardship, this is all simply to say that we respectfully have a professional difference of opinion with many of Mr. Johnston’s observations.

    DSP Mischaracterization:
    In his feedback to the draft DSP, Mr. Johnston has made statements that reflect a lack of understanding about destination stewardship. For example, he recommends that, “Beyond Green Travel should have utilized a preferable method of analysis by the World Travel and Tourism Council, “Coping with Success: Managing Overcrowding in Tourism Destinations.” In fact, Beyond Green Travel served as Senior Advisor to the World Travel and Tourism Council for more than a decade, including overcrowding in tourism destinations. Thus, the very document he recommends as a preferable method of analysis for the DSP is in fact a document that reflects Beyond Green Travel’s own work. We wonder how much time Mr. Johnston actually put into reading the DSP, as for example, “Coping with Success” is also cited in the DSP in regards to specific suggestions made for destinations to adopt tourism management best practices (DSP, p.19), which are reflected in the DSP recommendations. Mr. Johnston also cites McKinsey as a company with expertise in these issues – Beyond Green Travel has served as an independent expert to evaluate McKinsey’s own research work in this field.

    Stakeholder Consultations:
    Throughout the DSP process, local community and multi-stakeholder input and feedback was a priority from beginning to end, resulting in more than 150 consultations carried out and 131 stakeholder comments received on the DSP website that was open and available for any and all public comments over a period of six months, in addition to 345 DSP Survey Responses (including both English and Spanish Versions). The intention of the Big Sur Resident Survey was to take the information from the multi-stakeholder consultations and gain insight into support for various visitor management strategies that had been put forward by Big Sur stakeholders. Mr. Johnston suggests that the survey should have included at least one open-ended question where a respondent could provide commentary on whatever they felt was important. Yet, that is exactly what the survey also did include – an open-ended question. Once again, it is unclear to us to what degree he actually read the DSP.

    All the above led to the Draft DSP, which was presented in June 2020, and was followed by a 21-day open public comment period to the Draft DSP. Mr. Johnston did not participate in any of these opportunities for input, nor did he submit his comments until after the public comment period to the draft DSP had closed. It is important to note that Mr. Johnston’s comments were in response to the first draft of the DSP and not the final DSP, which benefitted from a wide range of Big Sur stakeholder feedback. As such, many of his comments do not accurately reflect the Final DSP.

    1986 Big Sur Land Use Plan:
    Mr. Johnston references this plan as fundamentally important to destination planning for Big Sur. We agree. And indeed, it was the guiding document that the DSP Team utilized throughout the DSP process. Mr. Johnston seems to suggest in his comments that the DSP supports additional tourism accommodations to be constructed in Big Sur. This is not accurate. The DSP contains no recommendations for additional tourism accommodations. Recommendations regarding facilities such as additional public restrooms were made within the guidelines of the BSLUP and came out of Big Sur community and stakeholder consultations. Furthermore, one of the key Strategic Advisors to the 1986 Big Sur Land Use Plan, who remains actively involved in the current BSLUP update process underway, was also a member of the DSP Steering Committee. Lastly, we do not agree with Mr. Johnson’s criticism of the 1986 Big Sur Land Use Plan as being “overly optimistic”.

    Misleading Statements:
    Mr. Johnston makes a number of misleading statements in his letter, including that the DSP follows the model of US Travel Association studies that call for industry leaders to steer the discussion away from limiting tourism and to push for how tourism “benefits your community”. This reflects a lack of understanding of sustainable tourism planning based upon the three key pillars of environmentally friendly practices, support for the protection of cultural and natural heritage, and the social and economic wellbeing of local people. Beyond Green Travel’s position is well documented that tourism boards should not measure success by growth in tourist numbers, but success should be measured based upon action and impact related to advancing the three pillars of sustainable tourism mentioned above. As is stated in the DSP, “this destination stewardship plan was launched to help identify ways to reduce the negative impacts of visitation and optimize positive contributions to the local economy and community way of life.” (DSP, p. 20)

    Carrying Capacity:
    Mr. Johnston goes to lengths to make a case for using “Carrying Capacity” because federal agencies have used that metric for decades. He is correct in that carrying capacity represents an old metric in land use and urban planning. Research has also revealed problems associated with carrying capacity as an outdated metric in tourism planning, given it suggests that growth in tourism should be based on how many people you can fit into a place. Beyond Green Travel believes that just because your carrying capacity may mean you can fit more tourists into a destination, increasing the number of tourists just because carrying capacity indicates more opportunity to expand is often not the right thing to do. Around the world, sustainable tourism planning has embraced Limits of Acceptable Change.

    Meaning, if a community feels that tourism is beginning to alter their way of life or impact nature or culture in ways that they believe is negative, it should be limited because it has gone beyond what the local community feels is acceptable to their way of life and protection of the environment. Mr. Johnston belittles tourism development lessons learned from other parts of the world, saying “they don’t apply here” and then refers to Big Sur not being the same as “third world villages that want more tourists” – a disparaging and misinformed comment that implies that people from developing countries somehow all think alike in just wanting more tourists, which is completely false. The reality is that there are important lessons to be learned about tourism growth from around the world (the DSP includes lessons learned from both USA and internationally). For example, the country of Colombia has just passed a national policy for sustainable tourism to guide all tourism planning in the country based not on outdated carrying capacity models, but on the far more successful visitation management tool, Limits of Acceptable Change.

    Incorrect Statements:
    Mr. Johnston states that the draft DSP examines visitor congestion, but not environmental quality, protection of local heritage and society, housing costs, and other issues. This is false, again raising questions as to his actual reading of the DSP. While it is not clear what other issues he is referring to, all the above have been referenced and reviewed as part of the challenges facing the Big Sur community and are noted in the DSP. It is also important to mention the defined scope of the DSP (p. 10-11):
    “In order to identify the priority challenges that Big Sur faces and propose action-based solutions, two questions were kept in mind: Is the problem directly connected to visitation?; and, are the solutions consistent with other key Big Sur plans, in particular, the Big Sur Land Use Plan (BSLUP)? This framed the overall scope for the DSP.

    Big Sur faces many challenges – the impacts of climate change on its natural environment, both on land and at sea; infrastructure limitations that are both physical, in terms of Highway 1 as the primary access route into the area, as well as such issues as lack of cell phone service and wi-fi access; the multiple jurisdictions and complexities of land management and land use in Big Sur – across Federal, State, County agencies; private, non-profit, agriculture, commercial, and residential activities; regulations, laws, ordinances and ownership; and their different mandates and agendas, abilities to coordinate and collaborate. Where these challenges intersect with visitation, they have been considered in developing the recommendations in this plan. These recommendations originate in the community-based multi-stakeholder process that guided the DSP process from the outset, and their intention is to develop action-oriented visitation management strategies consistent with the Big Sur Land Use Plan for further review and consideration towards implementation. “

    There are more points made by Mr. Johnston that we disagree with or find misinformed. Nevertheless, it is clear that Mr. Johnston cares about Big Sur’s future. Like the team at Beyond Green Travel, as well as DSP stakeholders, we are all united in the importance of protecting Big Sur. While Mr. Johnston’s letter includes his perspectives and suggestions, he also makes statements that are either mischaracterizations, misleading or false. While we respect that he has his own opinions, this is a case of Beyond Green Travel having taken a different professional approach on how best to address some of the most pressing challenges facing Big Sur today, as a place where tourism remains a real and justifiable concern. Whereas Mr. Johnston’s methodology may be more suited to his more traditional approach to land use and urban planning, Beyond Green Travel’s DSP approach includes recent methodologies and current research. While appreciative of his sharing his background and opinions, we believe that the Final DSP and its recommendations form an important document that reflects a wide range of stakeholder and community consultations that will help guide Big Sur towards a better and brighter future for local people and the planet.

    Costas Christ
    Beyond Green Travel
    November 30, 2020

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