Slice of Life on the South Coast: The challenges of simple errands and illegal campfires

My latest article for Voices of Monterey Bay is out. Here is the introduction:

I had an appointment on a Wednesday late last month with the Veterans Administration optometrist. It had been a while — six years, it turned out. I needed new glasses. It takes me two and one-half to three hours one way from Big Sur due to road construction and traffic. It is hard to do a round trip in a single day anymore.

The next day was the annual luncheon for the Monterey County Convention and Visitors Bureau. This is when they lay out the annual report for the current year, and the business plan for the next year. I find it valuable to understand the goals of this organization, how it’s intended to achieve them, and how MCCVB money is obtained and spent. Friday was the Democratic Women of Monterey County’s brunch with Adam Schiff. That afternoon, I had a second appointment with the VA optometrist.

Rather than fight traffic for three days, I stayed in town for those three nights so that I could accomplish all that I wanted to. which meant I only had to fight the traffic home on a single day; unfortunately it was the  Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Sigh. I vowed to relax and enjoy it — but I couldn’t relax. People would suddenly pull over with no warning, no signaling, making everyone behind them slam on their brakes. At least there was no road construction. And blissfully, Bixby was fogged in, so the traffic jam there was only a minor irritation.

But once I got to the dirt road to my home, the challenges increased. Saturday of Labor Day weekend. Lots of traffic on a one-lane dirt road made for an interesting drive. 

For the rest of this article, including my encounter with a nude man trying to get my attention, see: https://voicesofmontereybay.org/2019/09/11/slice-of-life-on-the-south-coast/

South Coast looking north in the fog

The Spirit of Wild Places

My latest article for Voices of Monterey Bay http://VOMB.org is out. Here are the first two paragraphs.

I’ve been enchanted with the spirit of wild places most of my life. I went backpacking to the top of Mount San Jacinto when I was 9, long before the tram was built. My family and I took a weeklong mule trip to the high country camps of Yosemite when I was 10. We camped every summer when I was growing up. I grew up as a Girl Scout and wild places were very much part of my life. We were taught to pack it in, pack it out, just because … well, what else would one do? Long before there was a “leave no trace movement,” it was what we were taught and what we did.

This upbringing probably contributed to my love affair with Big Sur. It was a natural extension of my wildness education in many of the most beautiful places in California and the West. I learned to water ski on Big Bear Lake and hike in the Sierras. We traveled to Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and other wild places of the West. I wish others had the opportunities that I did. Sadly, most of these places are overcrowded and overrun now. The experience is not quite what it was. The wildness is becoming harder and harder to find.

One can find the rest of the article here: https://voicesofmontereybay.org/2019/08/22/the-spirit-of-wild-places/

Enjoy.

STRs in Big Sur

I have covered this issue before — last month before the end of the public comment period here: https://bigsurkate.blog/2019/05/16/vacation-rentals-tourism-and-big-sur/ but it comes before the Planning Commission next Wednesday, and I wrote an article for the Voices of Monterey Bay website published today.

Here is part of what I wrote:


“The special characteristic 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; and the environment has been a special nurturing ground for individual and creative fulfillment. The community itself, and its traditional way of life are resources that can help protect the environment and enhance the visitor experience.”
— Big Sur Land Use Plan

By Kate Woods Novoa

Big Sur is raw, rugged, and humbling. It has been said that she can — and will — spit you out, if you don’t belong here. Longtime locals speak of her as if she is an entity. Visitors think of Big Sur as idyllic, and it is in many ways. But this romance does not have a place for short-term rentals.

Those who live here know the difficulties that are a part of the life here: the instability of the road, town trips and school days that must be canceled due to the ever-changing road conditions of Highway 1; storms that take out power lines and telephone lines; slides that take out our main artery, water systems and private roads, not to mention critical bridges; the isolation and the lack of any of the amenities most people have come to not just expect, but need. Get away from the highway, and you may see no services, except what landowners or neighborhoods provide. Here, it is still possible to live up close and personal with Mother Nature. That is why it is humbling. Those who survive the lessons that she has to teach become a community with shared values and a love for this place and one’s place in it.

Fabian Pfortmüller, a Swiss community builder and entrepreneur, defines community “as a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals.” But community, to me, is more than that. We care about each other, help each other, and care about the places where we live. “This is where the magic of a community happens,” Pfortmüller said. “When people care about each other, they develop trust. And trust unlocks collaboration, sharing, support, hope, safety and much more. While most organizations in the world optimize their performance towards external goals, communities optimize for trust.”

Tales of collaboration, sharing, support, hope and trust are legendary in Big Sur. From the early settlers to the last fire, road closure, or bridge collapse, tales of neighbor helping neighbor abound.

For the rest of my article, please see: https://voicesofmontereybay.org/2019/06/20/big-surs-str-problem/

The Dangers of Illegal Off roading

This was taken last year, but as the prolific grasses are drying out, I am reminded of this, and how dangerous it is. Besides destroying the environment, causing erosion which washes out the road below (not shown in photo), off roading can cause a wildfire if the grasses catch from your muffler or catalytic converter. Why take a chance? Stay on the roads please.

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And now, a growing number of “Subaru Ambassadors” have found these spots (the one below is just up the road from this one above) and more and more Subarus are coming every weekend. A month ago, it was a group of 4 Subarus. This past weekend, it was those four, plus four more, and at least two more want to join the group on the next trip.

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May 1, 2019 SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) – The National Interagency Fire Center is predicting a heavy wildfire season for areas along the West Coast of the United States this summer.

The Boise, Idaho-based center said Wednesday that most of the country can expect a normal wildfire season in the period from May through August.

But the states of California, Washington and Oregon are an exception.

The agency says a heavy crop of grasses and fine fuels has developed across California and should elevate fire potential as it dries through the summer.

 

Mid-Coast Fire Brigade response to the BBC article

This is the response that Mid-Coast Fire Brigade sent to the BBC author, Lucy Sherriff. Beautifully written letter than will provide all with the background and historical information on the Brigade. Thank you, Cheryl for the clarity.

“Yesterday and today I was contacted by numerous upset citizens regarding an article written by you and published by BBC regarding fire protection in the Palo Colorado community.

I also spoke to Chief Matt Harris of Big Sur Fire Brigade who just forwarded me your inquiry.  Big Sur Fire Brigade is not the fire jurisdiction responsible for Palo Colorado and its environs.  Mid Coast Fire Brigade is responsible for all emergency incidents which occur between the southern border of Carmel Highlands (near Yankee Point Dr) and Hurricane Point.  The lack of mention of any officially organized fire protection entity seemed intentionally misleading since you drive right past the fire station on Palo Colorado Road and it is clearly signed.

Mid Coast Fire Brigade (www.midcoastfirebrigade.org) was organized in 1978 and officially established in 1979 as the agency having jurisdiction in this area.  The Brigade was established in response to a lack of resources available to respond to emergencies when CalFire was not fully staffed during their non fire season.  Cal Fire is charged with the wildland firefighting responsibility in state watersheds in California and the United States Forest Service is responsible for wildland firefighting in federally managed areas.   Local fire agencies respond in concert with state and federal agencies to wildland fires with either CalFire or the USFS in command of wildland fire incidents, depending on jurisdiction.  Local fire agencies have the primary responsibility for all other types of emergencies including structure fires, medical emergencies, vehicle accidents, and rescues including surf and cliff rescues.

Mid Coast Fire Brigade maintains two wildland fire apparatus one with the jaws of life, one structure fire engine, one water tender, one rescue squad capable of fire suppression and cliff rescue, one ocean rescue response unit, one utility, 2 UTVs and one Chief Officer vehicle.  These vehicles we designed specifically for the narrow mostly dirt roads in our area. The Brigade currently has 20 all-volunteer members on its roster, all of whom must maintain the same state mandated training standards as all other professional / paid and volunteer fire agencies state wide.  Most of our personnel are trained to the California State Firefighter 1 level, and all are trained in Hazardous Materials Operation level.  The Fire Chief is a certified state fire instructor for fire training and Hazardous Materials training. The Fire Chief is certified by the Monterey County EMS Agency to provide medical training in house and teaches EMT training at Monterey Peninsula Community College. Minimum medical training is Emergency Medical Responder and most personnel are Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT).  The Mid Coast Fire Brigade launched Monterey County’s first Ocean Response Rescue Team and has officially implemented a Rope Rescue program.  Our volunteer firefighters live or work within our response area and dedicate themselves to the service of their entire community training at a minimum of twice a month to maintain their skills.  There are very few citizens in our response area that have not been contacted personally by the Fire Chief and asked to join the Fire Brigade and get involved to protect their community.  Most decline because of the time commitment required to maintain their skills and the time commitment to respond to emergencies at a moment’s notice, which may very well be your own neighbor.  Our response area covers 32 square miles including some of the most dramatic coastline in Big Sur including the Bixby Bridge and Hurricane Point.  The community we fight to protect is not limited to a small cluster of homes around where we live but our entire community at large.  The neighborhood mentioned in your article is effectively in the middle of our response area and less than 3 miles from our fire station.

In 2011 the Brigade completed building the communities first ever fire station.  The station was built with donations from the community that it serves and is utilized as a facility to house fire apparatus and for the community to gather in times of disaster.  The Brigade receives limited funds from the County of Monterey and relies on fund raising efforts and true volunteerism from its firefighting personnel as there is no pay at the end of the day.  The Assistant Chief and Fire Chief each have over 35 years of firefighting experience and both retired from Cal Fire as Fire Captains.

The Mid Coast Fire Brigade in conjunction with a long time resident and past Fire Brigade member conceived, developed and successfully implemented a Neighborhood Coordinator program.  The idea being that during an emergency a few phone calls could be placed by the Coordinator to the designated coordinator in each neighborhood so people could be quickly notified of an emergency. The Fire Chief placed the call on Friday night to the Coordinator asking that the notification process be started with the community to prepare to evacuate as Cal Fires official order may come much too late.

The Fire Brigade was actively involved in the fire fighting efforts and protection of structures during the Soberanes Fire.  July 23rd when the fire jumped Garrapata Creek and freight trained through the community destroying 57 structures there were no decisions made by any firefighting resources deciding which homes to let burn and which homes to save.  With the fire conditions that presented that night areas could simply not be accessed due to the intense fire activity.  In the very area presented in your article we were made aware of a community member that stayed behind to protect their  home and was asked to try to remove that person.  Despite our best efforts and due to the intense fire activity with numerous burning trees across the road, we were driven out of the area and could not make access.  The Brigade went through the proper channels to make notifications of the situation and arrange to affect a possible rescue of the individual as soon as it was deemed safe.

Because of the efforts of the Brigade numerous homes were saved that would have been otherwise destroyed as firefighting resources were so limited during the Soberanes Fire.  Spot fires were extinguished by the Brigade before they were able to spread and destroy additional structures in the community. We witnessed numerous neighbors that evacuated their homes during the fire and some that stayed but few asked the simple question..how can we help?  The Mid Coast Fire Brigade members walked away from their own homes not knowing what would be there when they returned to help others.  I am so very proud of them every day for all they give up to protect their community. The recent Tubbs Fire, Paradise Fire and the countless fires with large losses of homes and lives within their communities should tell you that you simply cannot deploy enough resources in the timeframe that they are needed in a major fire with burning conditions we have seen in last several years.  You cannot get out in front of a wind driven fire and stop the flaming fire front.  You do the best you can to minimize loss of property and lives and unfortunately not everyone will be happy with the outcome.

The Fire Brigade worked in conjunction with PG&E and AT&T, to restore power and phones to the area.  SPCA to provide food for pets as our community returned home. The County of Monterey and the Coast Property Owners Association (CPOA now CABS) to ensure dumpsters were in place to remove spoiled food and fire debris. The American Red Cross to build sifters, provide rakes and masks for people to sift through the remains of their burned structures and asked them to provide water as the private water systems were destroyed and/or filled with ash and fire debris.  All of this was in place prior to our community returning home three weeks after the fire erupted.

Prior to the Soberanes Fire the Mid Coast Fire Brigade established an annual Wildland Hazard Inspection program to educate the community on providing defensible space around their homes and suggested products to help defend their homes.  In 2010 the Mid Coast Fire Brigade organized and participated in a grass roots effort to clear 4 miles of the Palo Colorado Road right of way of dead trees and undergrowth using donated equipment and volunteer personnel from the community.  In 2013 the Brigade organized and participated in another road clearing program on a private road, which leads to the residents mentioned on the article to remove dead trees that had become a life threat to residents traveling on the roadway.  This project required the telephone company to lower its telephone lines which serviced the area, dead trees were removed using volunteer personnel and equipment, once the trees were removed the telephone company replaced and repaired their equipment improving service to the residents affected.  In 2015 the Mid Coast Fire Brigade secured a $750,000.00 grant from the United States Forest Service to construct a shaded fuel break along the ingress/egress routes, ridges and escapes routes so vital to the community, this project was completed May 31, 2016, less than 2 months before the Soberanes Fire erupted.  This project allowed resources access to roads which  otherwise may not have been accessible due to brush covered roadsides and overhanging tree limbs that limited the height of vehicles able pass on the roadway.  In 2017 the Brigade applied for and obtained a $36,000 grant to install 30,000 gallons of water storage for fire protection at a critical location in the community (there is no public water system and only a few private hydrants in the community).  The Mid Coast Fire Brigade is currently working with Cal Fire to re-establish and expanding the fuel breaks to help protect the Mid Coast community at large and not just focusing on a small portion of the Community, as noted in the article.  The Mid Coast Fire Brigade has worked relentlessly with the County of Monterey and Supervisor Mary Adams office to ensure that our community does not go forgotten and we have been the go to organization to ensure communication with the community and the needs of the community are not forgotten as there is not an official government entity here to fight for the community.

We have a fire service in California that is unrivaled anywhere in the world with the quickest access to resources.  With Big Sur Fire Brigade and United States Forest Service to the south, Cal Fire and Monterey County Fire agencies to the north, the quickest mobilization of resources is available for any emergency in our area.  We train and work together well and if there is any take away from this it would be that no single person or agency can do this job alone, we need to work together in the system that is already in place.

We have a community that is united, and although we may not always agree with each other I cannot imagine a better place to live and call home than Big Sur.

Cheryl Goetz
Fire Chief
Mid Coast Fire Brigade

Day 6 – finally on the home stretch, literally

After Rock Knocker talked to the tourists heading to Treebones, we headed south on South Coast Ridge Rd. At the very first blockage, our neighbor and friend, Peter, came up behind us. They could have both gotten under these trees, but I was too tall. Peter drove 3 miles past his own turn to see us all the way to our back gate. What a guy! Inside the gate, the top of a dead pine came down.  I’ll just let the photos speak for themselves.

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