For everyone who attended the dedication ceremony on the Stornetta Lands just north of Point Arena, it is ‘a dream come true.’ The California Coastal National Monument had indeed come ashore. Until that day, March 11, 2014, the monument comprised more than 20,000 “small islands, rocks, exposed reefs, and pinnacles,” extending 12 miles off shore from Mexico to the Oregon border. With the addition of 1665 acres of Stornetta Lands, anyone and everyone can now drive to the monument, walk it, and enjoy it. Yes, the monument has indeed come ashore.
To celebrate the day and signify the importance of adding land to the California Coastal National Monument, Secretary of the Interior, Sally Jewell, made her second trip to the Stornetta Lands since November 2013. As in November, the weather was perfect, the winds were calm, whales breached off the coast, and hundreds of enthusiastic and thankful local citizens were in attendance. The day before, President Barack Obama signed an executive act making the inclusion of the Stornetta Lands official. As the sponsor of HR 1441, Congressman Jared Huffman was at the White House signing ceremony. Huffman’s bill was designed to include the Stornetta Lands by congressional action, along with Senator Barbara Boxer’s Senate Bill 61, except that Senate Republicans were blocking it. For the tenth time President Obama acted to establish a national monument or add land to one. The proclamation is doubly important because it provides the first land bridge, a “gateway”, to the 1100 mile long California Coastal National Monument, first created by President Bill Clinton in 2000, again by proclamation.
What makes the addition of the Stornetta Lands so significant for the National Monument? Consider the “what ifs” that have loomed large over the Northern California coast for decades. A brief review of “what ifs,” so well described in David Helvarg’s recent book, The Golden Shore: California’s Love Affair with the Sea (St. Martin’s Press, 2013) should give everyone pause to reflect. We need not look back farther than the 1960s to realize how significant a day March 11, 2014 is.
As David Helvarg characterizes the 1960s, it was a time of “Mega Plans” for shoreline real estate development. More than twenty massive retirement and second home developments were planned for the coast, much of it from Jenner to Point Arena. Perhaps the first such scheme was the one known as Marincello, to be located in Marin County. Gulf Oil and Caldwell Banker envisioned 5,000 houses and 50 seven-story apartment houses. The Marin County 1967 General Plan called for adding 150,000 people to the “living gateway” communities outside Point Reyes National Seashore. But “gateways,” a developer’s dreams, do not exist in a vacuum. The “Mega Plans” called for four-lane highways (laterals) connecting Highway 101 with the coast, from Marin to northern Mendocino County. Route 1, the Coast Route, was to be expanded to a 4-lane highway by Caltrans. To provide water to the new communities, the Mattole, Eel, Trinity, Klamath, and Smith rivers would be tapped. To power this development, according to company projections, PG&E planned a “super system” of nuclear power plants. PG&E referred to Bodega Head as an Atomic Park.
Not to be left out of the race to develop Megalo-Polis, in 1968 Sonoma County Supervisors approved a Castle & Cooke subdivision for 5200 homes on a sheep ranch near Gualala. This development was to be the “new global standard” for real estate developers, for the rich, by the rich, and with no public access. Today, we know it as Sea Ranch, though in the end only 1,800 homes were built. What the creators of the speculative bubble in real estate development did not anticipate was citizen backlash. Over the next four years, environmentalists and common sense citizens organized, protested, and ultimately went to the voters with Proposition 20. The ballot initiative proposed to halt the selling off of the California Coast to “gateway” development projects, communities designed for the rich at the expense of everyone else. The issues focused on environmental damage, species eradication, and access for all to the coast. In November, 1972, Proposition 20 passed with 55.2% approval. It created the California Coastal Commission, a body empowered to oversee the process by which every Coastal County “develops and periodically upgrades its plan for protection and local access to the coast.” It took another four years, however, for the 1976 Coastal Act to be codified into law.
With the creation of the California Coastal Commission and the Coastal Act of 1976, the speculative subdivision schemes came to a grinding halt. How many rural roads striking west from Highway 1 terminate in a series of roughed out roads with street signs, with few, if any, houses built to this day? One can only guess. Perhaps the “Coastal Access” road between Point Arena and Manchester, ending in a parking area just east of the dunes (now part of or adjacent to the Stornetta Lands) is one example?
It was perhaps inevitable that the speculators would be bailed out once the Coastal Act was passed. Then Governor Reagan made certain that state monies was made available to add 145,000 acres of precious coastal land and two marine reserves to the California State Park System. It is an irony that the man who said of trees, “how many more do you need to look at?” ended up adding so much precious land to the park system, at taxpayer expense, of course. One can only conclude that the price was worth it. A cautionary tale should also be added: a day can be a lifetime in politics. In 1996, Governor Pete Wilson tried to do away with or gut the California Coastal Commission. It had made enemies of those who still sought to control coastal lands for the few. As a result, today the commission is half what it was in terms of staffing. Its budget, $16 million, remains vulnerable to political pressures. Regrettably, protection and preservation are principles that make enemies of those who seek profit where profit should not a consideration.
To return to the bright day on the shores of the Stornetta Lands last Wednesday, the formal proceedings began with a prayer and dances by the first peoples of the coast, the Pomo. They cheered the assembled with a hearty HOOOO and HEY!
Speakers and dignitaries rose to thank those who have labored so long and faithfully to see the Stornetta Lands, administered by the Bureau of Land Management, added to the National Monument. The California Coast National Monument envisions 12 “gateways” through which visitors can enjoy the 1100 miles of coast. Of the twelve “gateways” communities, three are concentrated near the Stornetta Lands (Point Arena, Elk, and Mendocino). Point Arena, to date, is the sole community where the monument actually comes ashore. It is a testament to the vision of so many volunteer activists that the day was made possible. The Mendocino Land Trust, Point Arena Citizens, Rich Barnes from BLM, Leslie Dahlhoff (former Point Arena Mayor), the veteran environmentalist Ed Norton, the Sierra Club, the Stornetta Family, Isaac Rios of the Manchester Pomo Band, and so many others all made the day possible. Appropriately, the formalities ended with the Point Arena school children singing “This is Our Land, This is Your Land.” The reader must forgive me for not listing all who deserve recognition and our thanks.
Going forward, a committee of local citizens and stakeholders has formed to begin planning the future for the Stornetta Lands. As the brochure for the monument outlines, a plan is needed for “managing the beaches, coastal pullouts, recreation areas, and adjacent natural areas.” A ten mile coastal trail is envisioned. The Garcia River is critical habitat for steelhead, Coho, and Chinook salmon. The habitat for shore birds and marine mammals, and for least a dozen other species, will need protection. Even the much talked about ‘mountain beaver’ deserves attention, in spite of its resemblance to a muskrat and not a real beaver.
Finally, little by way of specifics was said about the economic benefits to the area. There is hope that the designation of the Stornetta Lands will encourage more tourism. It is, after all, the only place on the entire California Coast where a visitor can directly access the National Monument. As the infrastructure at the site is enhanced for visitors (restrooms, trails, signage, vista points, and such) the necessary attractions will be in place. Last year, 40,000 visitors toured the Point Arena Lighthouse. Although downtown Point Arena is small, it boasts a first rate theater, local eateries, motel accommodations, gift shops, antique store, and one truly inspired bakery. As the movie Field of Dreams says, “If you build it, they will come.”