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Retaining wall: Letter to the Editor

by Peter Baye

This letter was published in the
Independent Coast Observer
on February 22, 2008.


The ICO’s editorial on “The Surf project” (February 15, 2008) is right about the benefits of a new downtown building layout that opens up coastal views. But it misses the point entirely about the nature and problems of “piecemealing” the bluff project ahead of the rest of the Surf Project.

The “piecemealing” issue isn’t whether John Bower “has been straightforward in discussing his plans” for the Surf Project with GMAC or local residents. The issue is that he did not include the Surf Project in his permit applications for the bluff stabilization project! There is nothing “straightforward” about withholding the main project from regulatory review, while seeking permits for related parts of it on the same site. This omission is no mere technicality.

Why does “piecemealing” the Surf project matter? Because coastal land use policies strongly discourage or prohibit developments like parking lots for commercial buildings that encroach on natural scenic coastal bluffs. They require set-backs and buffers that protect coastal bluffs. Parking lots don’t require filling and stabilizing bluffs.

If the basic purpose of the wall or “retention system” was stated in a straightforward way, it would point to creating parking area for the Surf project. That would trigger permit policies to avoid or minimize the bluff fill and stabilization component of the project. Instead, the bluffs would have a set-back or buffer zone, including the public trail.

The stated purpose for the bluff stabilization is bogus – a tactic to obtain a permit for a structure that would not be granted if its basic relation to the Surf project were disclosed. The existing erosion and drainage problems can be fixed without added fill, a concrete wall or “retention system.”

The Surf project can and should be built without annexing the bluffs to add parking area. And if coastal views are so valued, consider the view of the new Surf Center from Sonoma County’s Gualala Point Regional Park, with bluffs intact.

Peter Baye

[disclosure: I am a member of the steering committee of Friends of the Gualala River, which is appealing the county permit]

More information on the proposed “Surf project.”