State Agency Tries Today to 'Split the Baby'

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July 13, 2011 by   - () Leave a Comment

The blue-collar Lawson's Landing resort in Tomales Bay, Calif., owned by the Lawson family since the 1920s, is a rarity in two regards: An unpermitted development in an environmentally sensitive area of sand dunes and wetlands and a low-cost recreational site on a glorious coastline.

The 12-member California Coastal Commission will consider a plan to accommodate those two conditions — both part of its mandate — at a public hearing today (July 13) at the Marin County Civic Center in San Rafael, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reported.

The plan allows Lawson's Landing to remain in business, but in a way that preserves open space and limits when and how people can use their own year-around trailers.

“They are attempting to split the baby,” said Mike Reilly, a former Sonoma County supervisor and commission member.

In a 156-page report, commission staff is recommending what resort co-owner Carl Vogler described as compromise between protecting the land and leaving it open to campers, anglers and about 213 trailer owners, with some new conditions on the latter.

“The mark of a good compromise is when both sides are unhappy,” Vogler said.

Richard Shelden of Petaluma, a retired Marin sheriff's deputy who bought a trailer at Lawson's Landing 12 years ago, sees little balance in the proposed plan.

“It's grossly unfair,” said Shelden, who has invested more than $40,000 in his trailer and pays $400 a month to rent the space. “It's clear they want the trailers out of here.”

Also dissatisfied is the 1,500-member Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which wants stronger protection of the 960-acre Lawson's Landing property, located south of Dillon Beach, about five miles from the Sonoma County line.

“It is an exceptional place,” said Amy Trainer, the group's executive director.

Her group wants most of the dunes and wetlands restored to their “natural state,” with recreational facilities concentrated in a limited area.

Interest in Lawson's Landing extends far and wide, as 67 organizations and 118 individuals have sent letters to the Coastal Commission regarding the plan, which essentially sets conditions for authorizing the trailer park, campground, store, pier and other facilities built without permits.

Key elements of the plan call for:

  • Allowing Lawson's Landing to maintain 417 RV and tent lots on open land plus 233 year-round trailer lots and other improvements on about 43 acres.
  • Establishment of a 465-acre conservation easement to protect the dunes area, home to the threatened western snowy plover, red-legged frog and rare plants. Vogler said he and co-owner Michael Lawson have signed an option with the National Resources Conservation Service that will pay them $5 million for the easement.
  • Installation of a $2 million wastewater treatment system within three years, replacing septic tanks that Vogler said “no way meet the code.”
  • Limiting trailer owners to 90 days a year occupancy of their units, with a maximum of 30 days during the summer. The rationale for that restriction, according to the plan, is that the oceanfront trailers are allowable only if their use is “primarily visitor-serving” as opposed to residential.

Privately owned trailers began moving onto the Lawson family's land in 1959, and now number about 213.

The plan would allow only trailers built after 1999 to remain, and owners would have to turn over their keys to a rental manager and book the use of their own units.

“What country are we living in that we have to turn over the keys to our property?” said J.D. Davis, a retiree and disabled ex-Marine who has owned a trailer at Lawson's Landing for 30 years.

Davis and Shelden said the plan is particularly unfair, contending that the $400-a-month rental fees paid by trailer owners have sustained the Lawson's business for years.

In the summer, hundreds of people pour into the campgrounds, but all winter long Lawson's Landing is nearly a ghost town, they said.

Vogler, the co-owner, said he is unsure if the business can survive on 650 camping and trailer sites, far fewer than it once had.

“We're going to make it work or die trying,” he said, adding that their prices likely would increase if the plan is approved.

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