by Betsy Herbert, Earth Matters
published in the Santa Cruz Sentinel 01/19/2017
Who could imagine that the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property — once proposed by PG&E as the site of a nuclear power plant — would eventually become a national monument? But it’s true. On Jan. 12, President Barack Obama granted national monument status to this 5,875-acre property on Santa Cruz County’s North Coast.
Unquestionably, this iconic landscape is truly worthy of monument status ... for its scenic beauty and natural resources and as a tribute to the dramatic history of the land and the people who have dedicated themselves to protecting it.
After its indigenous caretakers — the Cotoni and Amah Mutsun peoples — were driven off the land, the property was acquired under a Spanish land grant and managed as dairy and farmland through the 1950s. Since then, the Coast Dairies property has almost miraculously dodged a series of bullets on its path to becoming a national monument including mining, oil drilling, nuclear plant siting and luxury housing development:
Mining >> In 1906 the Davenport cement plant was built on the adjacent property. In the 1980s, when Coast Dairies was offered for sale to cement plant owner Lonestar, Lonestar declined for financial reasons.
Oil drilling >> In the 1950s, Texaco secured an oil lease on Coast Dairies to drill the deepest exploratory well in the history of Santa Cruz County, but found insufficient oil reserves to proceed.
Nuclear power plant >> In the 1970s, PG&E acquired an option on Coast Dairies to build a nuclear power plant at El Jarro Point. As Santa Cruz County residents resoundingly resisted this effort, a seismic study finally dashed the hopes of PG&E by demonstrating the site’s vulnerability to a major earthquake.
Housing development >> In the 1990s, a developer named Sweeney acquired an option to buy the Coast Dairies property. The threat of Coast Dairies becoming a luxury housing development galvanized statewide efforts to purchase and protect it.
The long path toward monument status began in 1998 when the Trust for Public Land acquired Coast Dairies, with the intent of protecting it and turning it over to public agencies for management.
TPL engaged the community to create a management plan for Coast Dairies. I worked with many folks in Bonny Doon and Davenport in 2000-2001, as part of the Community Advisory Group, put in place by TPL. Advisory groups members attended long evening meetings over many months to weigh in on this management plan.
The result of this visionary community-based effort was TPL’s 2003 Coast Dairies Long-Term Resource Protection and Access Plan.
TPL then deeded the land to BLM and State Parks. The 2003 plan now lays the groundwork for BLM to develop, with public input, a final National Monument Management Plan.
In 2015, as Sempervirens Fund spearheaded the campaign to make Cotoni-Coast Dairies a national monument (Disclosure: I am a board member of Sempervirens Fund), some people in Bonny Doon and Davenport were opposed. They believe that as a national monument, Cotoni-Coast Dairies will draw huge crowds of tourists and traffic to this rural area that is unprepared in terms of parking, toilets, habitat protection, and law enforcement.
To alleviate these concerns, consider that national monument status will now open doors to badly needed funding for public outreach, management planning, and enforcement. Perhaps most importantly, the monument will remain closed to the public until adequate infrastructure and a management plan are in place.
According to Sara Barth, executive director of Sempervirens Fund, “We plan to actively participate in the public planning process to ensure that the monument’s natural resources are protected and adequate infrastructure is in place to support public access.”
Betsy Herbert serves on the boards of Sempervirens Fund, the Santa Cruz Mountains Bioregional Council, and the Center for Farmworker Families. You can contact her through her website, www.betsyherbert.com.