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.