Environmental issues make headlines in 2014

by Betsy Herbert

posted in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 01/15/2015

In 2014, the statewide drought continued as the biggest environmental news story in Santa Cruz County. Below I list some milestones of environmental change affecting our region during the past year:

• The city of Santa Cruz Water Supply Advisory Committee meets for the first time since the City Council established the committee in October 2013. The committee will advise the city council in developing a fact-based water-supply strategy.
• An international conference, “Anthropocene: Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet,” at UC Santa Cruz poses the question: “How can humans and other species coexist on the planet?”
• Santa Cruz becomes the first California county to ban fracking, a controversial method of oil and gas production, when the county Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the ban following reports that oil companies were exploring the possibility of fracking in neighboring San Benito County.
• The state awards a $344,246 grant to Santa Cruz County and its 20 governmental partners to explore a community-controlled alternative to energy supplier PG&E in the Monterey Bay region, known as Community Choice Aggregation (CCA). Should the Monterey Bay region implement a CCA, it would be the first multi-county CCA in the state and one of the largest in the country.
• The 2014 Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) is adopted after two years of public outreach. The plan focuses on sustainability, setting forth goals, policies and projects through 2035.
• Humpback whales, attracted by plentiful anchovies in the Monterey Bay, draw crowds of whale-watchers from around the world.
• More than 2,000 people participated in a public workshop/survey designed to assess the feasibility of Santa Cruz Passenger Rail Service along the 32-mile Santa Cruz Branch Rail Line along the coast of Santa Cruz County. Sixty-five percent of survey participants say they are either “extremely” or “very interested” in taking this train.
• The state Wildlife Conservation Board awards $10 million for a conservation easement prohibiting development on San Vicente Redwoods, owned by Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST) and Sempervirens Fund. The 8,500-acre forested property lies above the town of Davenport. The easement, held by Save the Redwoods League, sets aside extensive areas as protected reserves, and allows logging in other areas. The Land Trust of Santa Cruz County, another conservation partner in the deal, continues drafting a public access plan for the property.
• Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law making California the first state in the U.S. to ban plastic bags. The state ban followed numerous county and city bans throughout California, including Santa Cruz County.
• Santa Cruz County supervisors approve a plan to build a new entrance to Castle Rock State Park, as proposed by Sempervirens Fund. The 5,300-acre park at the boundary of Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties is a top destination for rock climbers and hikers, but was previously placed on the State Parks closure list. Sempervirens Fund will fund the $7 million project, aimed at keeping the park open.
Santa Cruz County voters approve Measure F, providing funding for County Parks, with a 76 percent majority. The measure is designed to properly maintain Santa Cruz County parks, facilities, beach access and open space and is funded by a Santa Cruz County parcel tax of $8.50 per improved parcel.
• The city of Santa Cruz temporarily suspends water rationing penalties after December rains drench California, though water officials warn that the recent rains are not nearly enough to alleviate the drought.