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California Cleanup Yields 320 Tons of Trash

September 17, 2012 by · Comments Off on California Cleanup Yields 320 Tons of Trash 

Almost 60,000 volunteers throughout 55 counties in California took part in this year’s “California Coastal Cleanup Day” on Sept. 15.

This year was the 28th annual state-sponsored cleanup event and in three hours, volunteers succeeded in removing 320 tons of garbage and debris from 850 different sites, both inland and coastal, the Latinos Post reported.

California Coastal Cleanup Day 2012 was supported by the California Coastal Commission, California State Parks Foundation and the Ocean Conservancy. The state received additional support from Whole Food, Oracle, Clif Bar, Union Bank, Crystal Geyser Alpine Spring Water and many more.

“The results (from this year’s cleanup) will provide us with a baseline against which we can measure future cleanup data from those same locations,” Eben Schwartz, marine debris cleanup manager for the California Coastal Commission, said in a statement. “Volunteers collect data during every Coastal Cleanup Day, and this year is no different. However, with the potential for a significant increase in the amount of ocean-borne debris reaching California, it is important that we monitor the data closely so that we know where to direct our volunteers and resources in the coming months.”

Highlights:

  • In San Mateo County, which had the highest number of people participating, 4,029 volunteers showed up and removed 27,364 pounds of trash and recyclables.
  • The second biggest turnout was in Alameda County and there 3,475 volunteers collected 27,117 pounds of trash and recyclables.
  • Third place in terms of turn-out size, Contra Costa County had 2,980 volunteers remove 16,000 pounds of trash and recyclables.
  • In Santa Clara County there were fewer volunteers but they managed to collect more garbage than in any of the aforementioned counties. 1,643 volunteers removed 44,811 pounds of trash and recyclables.

As part of the event, there was the “2012 Most Unusual Item” contest. Lots of unusual items were found, including a 1962 Dodge convertible at the Almeda Resevoir.

Two winners were chosen for the contest, however. They were a concrete statue of a rabbit, found in Shasta County and an old, degraded love letter found at Kehoe Beach in Marin County. The letter was read aloud at a celebratory BBQ at the Bay Model Visitor Center after the cleanup. Whole Foods awarded those two winners each with a $50 gift card to their stores.

The volunteers for this year’s event included California residents, school students and employees at non-profit organizations and private companies.

The San Francisco Chronicle interviewed 11-year-old Eva Macy, who was at the cleanup with a group from her school. She was asked about her findings during the event – at the time she was holding a bucketful of metal, glass and plastic that she’d found after sifting through sand.

“When I look at this bucket I don’t know what to say,” Macy told the Chronicle. “Why do people put this here? Don’t they have any consideration for wildlife?”

 

RV Park and Campground Briefs

July 28, 2011 by · Comments Off on RV Park and Campground Briefs 

TEXAS

From the Galveston County Daily News:

Residents and out-of-towners want to know when construction will begin on a long-awaited RV park at 201 Seawall Blvd. in the spot formerly occupied by the once-popular Sandpiper Motel.

James Henderson, whose family had operated the island motel for about 48 years, attributed delays to issues with CenterPoint Energy releasing an easement at the property. Henderson said the issue had dragged on for months and was the only obstacle in the way of redeveloping the property.

After calls from The Daily News, CenterPoint officials said they mailed the release to Henderson on Wednesday morning (July 27). But it wasn’t immediately clear what caused the delays. With that easement release, Henderson now can file a plat and application for building permits, he said. If all goes as planned, construction could begin in about two weeks, Henderson said.

The Sandpiper Motel was badly damaged by Hurricane Ike, which struck in September 2008. In September last year, crews demolished most of the property. The Hendersons spared the office building at the motel, which they plan to transform into eight guest rooms.

The rest of the site will be home to an upscale, 30-slip RV park, with amenities such as a pool with a “vanishing edge,” a theater room, a card room, kitchen and common area.

Although the CenterPoint easement was an issue, Henderson said he had not encountered any problems with the city.

CALIFORNIA

From the Malibu Surfside News:

Members of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (SMMC) board and the public had an opportunity to visit the conservancy’s Bluffs Park property and learn more about the plans that include two small campgrounds, three coastal accessways, a picnic area and restrooms.

Paul Edelman, the deputy director of Natural Resources and Planning for the SMMC , was not discouraged by a July 7 legal ruling that threw out California Coastal Commission approval for the project, which includes an ambitious new network of trails, and camping facilities at Bluffs Park and Corral Canyon.

The conservancy already filed an appeal and was voting later that evening to apply to the city of Malibu for a Local Coastal Amendment for the project.

The project cannot proceed until the litigation is concluded, but Edelman is confident that the the issue can be resolved and the plan will move forward.

Bluffs Park campground plan includes two clusters of walk-in campsites with firefighting gear and electrical outlets instead of fire pits or BBQ grills; two parking areas that will be restricted for campers only, self-contained vault-style toilets, a picnic area and improvements to existing trails.

“Our plans are detailed down to the last hose bib and plug,” Edelman said. The Coastal Commission said we could [put some of the proposed improvements] in ESHA, but we didn’t need to.”

SOUTH DAKOTA

From Ultimate Motor Cycling:

Bean’re will be camping and acting as “Mayor of Fun” at the Legendary Buffalo Chip Campground during the 71st Annual Sturgis Motorcycle Rally next month.

Known for his outgoing personality and unique sense of biker style, Bean’re is sure to get everyone partying harder and having more fun than ever at the Chip.

Bean’re says: “I’ve been going to Sturgis for years and always enjoyed the Chip. I remember seeing concerts here back in 1990 but it’s always fun from just cruisin’ the campground to the Lichter Exhibit and Legends Ride, there’s always something going on. I want to invite everyone to the several beach parties I will host, Bean’res Guided Rides and Zipline Kick-offs!”

Bean’re’s rocking Bikini Beach Parties will happen everyday from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. He will be “Mayor of Fun,” helping everyone start their day off right. There will be daily Bloody Mary drink specials during the parties. To get the crowd going Bean’re will have tons of cool swag to hand out and will judge a daily rope swing contest! When you wake, make sure you head right over to Sturgis’ favorite swimming hole, Bikini Beach, and party with Bean’re!

State OK’s Last-Minute Compromise for Lawson’s Landing

July 14, 2011 by · Comments Off on State OK’s Last-Minute Compromise for Lawson’s Landing 

An overflow crowd packed a Civic Center board room Wednesday (July 13), testifying for hours before many departed in disgust as the state Coastal Commission literally took a page from an environmental partisan’s wish list and began to dismantle a proposal to improve Lawson’s Landing at Dillon Beach in Northern California.

Lawson’s representatives said the plan to eliminate travel trailers in three years would scuttle improvement plans in light of a revenue squeeze, and asked the panel to deny the project so they could submit another one, but Supervisor Steve Kinsey, seated as a coastal commissioner, called for a break allowing the owners to reconsider, the Marin Independent-Journal reported.

More than an hour later, resort owners and staff reported on a compromise that eliminates 229 travel trailers serving residents in five years without rental restrictions. The commission approved the plan 10-1.

Kinsey’s call for cooler heads came near the end of a marathon hearing after the session took an unusual turn, with the state panel accepting an environmental group’s one-page list of concerns and proceeding to vote its key points up or down, a move that infuriated project proponents.

“This would put us out of business!” declared an agitated Gary Giacomini when the commission voted to scrap travel trailers in three years. “It’s end game for us,” said Giacomini, serving as Lawson’s attorney.

But by the time the day-long hearing ended at 10:15 p.m., commissioners had ditched that plan and agreed to let residents live in their trailers for five more years. At that time, the trailers hooked to makeshift septic systems must be hauled away and replaced with visitor-serving recreational vehicles or campsites.

The trailers owned by residents occupy space they lease for $400 a month, revenues that Lawson’s owners count on to help finance improvements. “To wipe them all out wipes out our ability to stay in business,” Giacomini said, expressing outrage the commission used a check list of restrictions sought by the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin to specifically vote on committee issues, ignoring staff recommendations in the process.

Kinsey also expressed dismay when the commission began dismantling the project. “Let’s take down the whole thing…I find it really sad you would take one advocacy position,” he told colleague Esther Sanchez, who urged the trailers be scrapped. “It’s stunning!”

A move by Sanchez to eliminate 115 camping sites was rejected by the commission.

Jared Ficker of California Strategies, Lawsons’ consultant, joined others in bewilderment when the panel seemed intent on stitching together major revisions to its staff proposal. He asked the panel to deny the project so he could regroup and submit a new plan.

“We would prefer denial so we (have time) to get clarity,” he said. “This is a substantial change,” he added of junking the travel trailers.

After Kinsey urged Ficker to reconsider, the panel postponed further review for an hour to allow Lawson representatives to reflect. The result was a deal after years of controversy about development plans.

The ramshackle, 960-acre site, home to the largest stretch of sand dune habitat in private ownership on the coast, has developed without benefit of permits over the years into the region’s biggest coastal campground, providing generations of blue-collar Californians with recreational opportunities.

At issue: Balancing environmental protection of unique coastal resources with affordable access to the coast, both key goals of the state Coastal Act.

As the meeting began Wednesday morning, dozens of Lawson’s Landing boosters wearing blue “Save Lawson’s Landing” T-shirts and ball caps filed into the Board of Supervisors chambers, along with a spectrum of environmental activists, some saying protecting species including endangered red-legged frogs on the property was more important than accommodating campers.

Emotions ran high at times and the session was interrupted early on when a man began ranting from the audience, prompting the panel to adjourn briefly, then reconvene, joined by three sheriff’s deputies who monitored the crowd.

In a detailed 156-page report, commission staff embraced the overall scope of a plan approved by the county last year, but cut camp spaces by about 15% and added numerous restrictions, conditions and time limits that could curb development further — and will prove costly. Resort owners Michael Lawson and Carl Vogler intend to raise $5 million by selling a 465-acre conservation easement to the National Resources Conservation Service.

The staff recommended approval of 417 recreational vehicle and tent spaces, and, initially, 229 year-round travel trailer spaces, and called for store, parking, fuel, mooring, boat repair and sales, waste system and road improvements. Development will be limited to 33 acres, and additional restrictions imposed near dune and wetland areas along with a restoration and habitat program.

Other limitations initially urged by staff included regulation of travel trailers by preventing owners from living in them for more than 90 days a year — and a maximum of 30 days during the summer. The rest of the time, trailers must be rented out to boost coastal access for others, the staff proposed. Stays in recreational vehicles and tents will be limited to 10 consecutive nights.

But the novel plan to turn beach trailer residences into affordable rental units to boost coastal access goals fell flat as the commission voted 7-4 to eliminate the trailers as permanent homes within three years. Later, the commission reconsidered, voting 10-1 to eliminate them in five years, without rental restrictions in the meantime.

Officials were mindful of a staff assertion that because most existing development was illegal, “the commission must consider the application as though the development had not occurred.” At the same time, officials must acknowledge the project provides “needed lower cost visitor serving public access and recreation including coastal-dependent water oriented activities of extremely high statewide significance that is mandated by the Coastal Act.”

The project depends on a variety of financing, including $2 million in camping and lease fees, bank loans and the conservation easement, to pay for improvements such as the $2 million wastewater treatment program to replace 127 septic systems now on the property.Read learn more about this hearing, click here to read an account from the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

State Agency Tries Today to ‘Split the Baby’

July 13, 2011 by · Comments Off on State Agency Tries Today to ‘Split the Baby’ 

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.

Park Owners’ Case Goes to Coastal Commission

July 11, 2011 by · Comments Off on Park Owners’ Case Goes to Coastal Commission 

The battle for Lawson’s Landing on California’s coast flares again Wednesday (July 13) as partisans fire another round of salvos over the future of the 960-acre site at Dillon Beach, home to the largest stretch of sand dune habitat in private ownership on the coast — as well as the region’s biggest coastal campground, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

The state Coastal Commission will convene at the Marin County Civic Center, where a capacity crowd is expected to renew arguments that pit the need for environmental protection of unique coastal resources against the blue-collar Dillon Beach resort that sprang up without permits and has provided coastal access and recreation for generations of Californians.

In a 156-page report, the commission staff essentially embraces the overall scope of a plan approved by county supervisors a year ago. But the report recommends cutting camp spaces by about 15%, and it adds numerous restrictions, conditions and time limits that could curb development further — and will prove costly even if resort owners Michael Lawson and Carl Vogler raise improvement funds by selling a 465-acre conservation easement.

Because the project involves a collision of affordable ocean access with resource preservation, both goals of the state Coastal Act, the commission staff invoked “conflict resolution policies” that tighten a county master plan for the tract in order to protect and restore the environment while allowing what it called “important lower cost visitor-serving customer access and recreation opportunities.”

The result, according to Tom Lai, assistant director of the county’s Community Development Agency, is a proposal that is “in the ballpark” outlined by the county, but one that imposes more rules, regulations and restrictions. “It’s a different version of the song,” he said.

Although conditions provide some flexibility, the state staff recommends the commission sign off on 417 recreational vehicle and tent spaces and 229 year-round travel trailer spaces. Depending on whether conditions including berms and setbacks are met, that could be as many as 120 fewer spaces overall than envisioned by the county.

It also calls for store, parking, fuel, mooring, boat repair and sales, waste system and road improvements. About 465 acres would be set aside in a conservation easement, development elsewhere limited to 43 acres, and restrictions imposed near dune and wetland areas along with a dune restoration and other habitat improvement programs including the closure of several roads.

Other restrictions:

  • If a new wastewater treatment and disposal system is not installed in three years, the resort must cease all uses that depend on 127 septic systems now in operation — a stipulation that essentially would shut down the operation.
  • Owners of recreational vehicles equipped with drains could not live in them for more than 90 days a year, and a maximum of 30 days during the summer, and be required to rent them out for 270 days. Overnight stays in recreational vehicles and tent sites would be limited to 10 consecutive nights. Rentals would be handled by a campground coordinator.
  • Lawson’s Landing must submit within six months, “or additional time” as the commission staff allows, a dozen detailed planning documents including a final layout plan, a camping management plan, a resource protection and restoration plan, a wetlands and dunes plan, a grazing management plan, a visitor-serving travel-trailer plan, a septic system inspection plan, a traffic management plan, as well as plans for hazard response, trails, landscaping, grading and stormwater management.

Lawson, who is worried that restrictions and improvement requirements are so expensive they could scuttle the business in spite of camping and trailer revenue of almost $2 million a year, said the state plan provides some “wiggle room.” He said the 20-year project depends on a variety of revenue sources — including camping and lease fees, bank loans and more than $5 million in easement money from the National Resources Conservation Service — to pay for improvements such as the $2 million wastewater treatment program.

Officials are girding for battle are various groups, including the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, which appealed the county plan to the state commission. It has issued a call to arms on its website: “The commissioners will decide what to do about the unpermitted development at Lawson’s Landing, from camping on wetlands to substandard sewage disposal, which threatens the environment and public health,” the committee reported. “The coastal commissioners need to hear from you at this meeting!”

Catherine Caufield, an ex-director of the committee who has led the charge to limit beach development plans, called the commission staff proposal “an interesting and complex report and we are looking at it,” adding, “I’m sure there can be a project that includes camping out there.”

Lawson’s Landing’s website also seeks to rally supporters, saying, “We are asking everyone who loves to camp, fish, boat, and spend time at Lawson’s Landing to take the time to show your support by attending the Coastal Commission hearing in San Rafael.”

Among the resort boosters will be Richard Shelden of Petaluma, who retired as a Marin County deputy sheriff after 31 years, bought a trailer for $16,300 and spent about as much to fix it up. Shelden, a member of the Alliance of Permanent Trailers who pays $400 a month rent, called the plan to limit use of his trailer “unconscionable,” adding the overall plan “will break Lawson’s back financially.”

Shelden is among generations of Californians who have flocked to the area to fish, swim and frolic since the Depression. The complex developed without permits into an affordable coastal recreational oasis sporting a sand-mining operation beyond rows of ramshackle aluminum trailers and expansive meadows that host a summer surge of recreational vehicles and tent camps.

“Because most of the existing development on the site has been determined to be unpermitted, the commission must consider the application as though the development had not occurred,” the state commission report said. At the same time, the report added, officials must acknowledge the project provides “needed lower cost visitor serving public access and recreation including coastal-dependent water oriented activities of extremely high statewide significance that is mandated by the Coastal Act.”

Labor Day 2011 Opening for New Campground

August 17, 2010 by · Comments Off on Labor Day 2011 Opening for New Campground 

From a distance, or at least a bird’s-eye view, the construction crews at Crystal Cove State Park along the California coast are barely visible as they work under the shroud of a thick marine layer. They’re laying the infrastructure, building the restrooms and the lifeguard headquarters and pouring the concrete to what could very well be one of Southern California’s last coastal state park campgrounds, the Daily Pilot, Costa Mesa, reported.

It’s all happening in the state park along both sides of Coast Highway. The 2,400-acre gem combining coastal bluffs and wild backcountry is located between Laguna Beach and Newport Beach.

Park Superintendent Todd Lewis said he hopes to have the 60 campsites up and running by the 2011 Labor Day holiday weekend.

“This could be the last campgrounds we ever build,” said Lewis, referring to the California State Parks system. “There’s just not that much land available anymore in Southern California. And it’s not every day that you’re able to get approval from the California Coastal Commission.”

The entire project will cost $12 million. It was funded by Proposition 12, bond money approved for state parks in 2000 but whose funds were put on hold for much of 2009. But early this year, sometime around January’s heavy rains, that taxpayer money was thawed, and work crews have been working since, inching closer to making the campground a reality.

The project will be built on 35 acres. There was once a mobile home park on the beach, but the state bought the land and has since returned the beach to its natural state, with the exception of the construction of a lifeguard headquarters.

Four full-time positions are also being created for the new campgrounds: A state parks peace officer-lifeguard; a park’s maintenance assistant, another state park maintenance worker; and a state park interpreter. Combined, the four jobs will total more than $100,000 in yearly salaries.

The campsites will go up on the other side of Coast Highway.

The future campgrounds will now pick up the slack for those who want to do spend a few days near Laguna Beach or Newport Beach and will no longer have to travel to Doheny State Beach, near Dana Point, or Bolsa Chica State Beach, near Huntington Beach.

The overnight prices, Lewis said, are still being calculated, but so far the figure is falling between the range of $60 to $75.

Hook-ups for recreational vehicles will be available for $65 to $75, he added.

And for those who just want to pitch a tent or drive their conversion van in and spend a night, they will probably run between $50 to $60, Lewis said.

In 2000, California voters approved a general obligation bond to address several key resources needs. The bond — the Safe Neighborhood Parks, Clean Water, Clean Air, and Coastal Protection Bond Act of 2000, also known as Proposition 12 — allocated $1.36 billion to the California State Parks, with $519 million for additions and improvements to the parks.

California’s State Parks includes 278 parks with more than 14,000 campsites, 320 miles of coastline and more than 4,500 miles of trails, making it the largest state park system in the lower 48 states. In addition, it has the highest number of visitors of any state park system in the nation, with more than 76 million visitors yearly.

Lewis said California State Parks worked closely with nearby El Moro Elementary School, assuring everybody that there would be no traditional wood-burning fires allowed at the park. Only propane is allowed into the campground, Lewis said.

“The cliché has always been that we ‘protect the parks from the people, the people from the parks and the people from the people,'” said Lewis.

Showdown Looms for Popular California RV Park

July 9, 2010 by · Comments Off on Showdown Looms for Popular California RV Park 

Aerial view of Lawson's Landing, Marin County, Calif.

California state officials joined the battle for Lawson’s Landing on Thursday (July 8), as the California Coastal Commission toured the 940-acre site at Dillon Beach, home to the largest stretch of sand dune habitat in private ownership on the coast — as well as the region’s biggest coastal campground and trailer park.

Commissioners appeared at the sprawling complex for a whirlwind, 90-minute visit, arriving two hours late after a bus scheduling mix-up forced them to carpool from Santa Rosa, where they were meeting, to the blue-collar Pacific beach resort on the lip of Tomales Bay, the Marin Independent Journal reported.

They were greeted by about two dozen environmental activists and campground advocates who tagged along as Charles Lester, senior deputy director, and John Dixon, a staff ecologist, talked about the land, its history and a master plan of improvements approved by the county.

After a commission edict in 2006, Marin officials curbed the campground operation in 2008, cutting camping space in half. Partisans on both sides of the fight are now girding for a showdown before the commission that could come as early as next month when the panel meets in San Luis Obispo.

Dixon gave a wide-ranging overview of the area’s sensitive sand dune and wetlands habitat, home to endangered red-legged frogs and snowy plovers along with meadows “chock-a-block full of native wetland plants.”

Commissioner Ross Mirkarimi, a San Francisco supervisor who had visited the area before, asked the staff to provide reports on the demographics of those who come to the resort, as well as determine how many of 213 trailer sites existed in 1965, before the Coastal Act was approved. “The math is important,” he said.

“We have a natural collision of a pre-Coastal Act practice with a modern-day assessment,” Mirkarimi said in an interview.

Other commissioners had little to say of substance, with several merely indicating the area was unique and the field trip educational. “I don’t have enough information to lean one way or the other,” said Commissioner Sara Wan of Malibu, noting commission staff has not yet filed an analysis of the issues.

A commission attorney warned those joining the tour that the event was not a public hearing and that no public testimony could be taken. The Lawson’s Landing plan has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.

Earlier, two campground advocates rose at open time as the commission convened in Santa Rosa. “This is the only public campground in Marin County available to low- and moderate-income families,” said Cindy Whitley of Dillon Beach.

Mike Lawson, whose great uncle and aunt, Howard and Winifred Lawson, launched a pier operation in 1929 and later joined with family members in buying land, said he advised advocates “who could have been here by the busload” to stay away, because the commission had a busy agenda and it was not a time for public testimony.

Generations of blue-collar Californians have fled the heat of the Sacramento Valley and flocked to the area to fish, swim and frolic since the Depression. The complex developed without permits into an affordable coastal recreational oasis sporting rows of old aluminum trailers and an expansive meadow that hosts a summer-time surge of recreational vehicles and tent camps.

But environmentalists have sounded the alarm for years in a county otherwise noted for strict building rules, saying the operation tramples sensitive dune and wetlands habitat, wildlife and plants.

A county master plan seeks to protect sensitive areas while maintaining public access to the coast and providing a profitable business for owners Lawson and Carl Vogler. The plan calls for a new septic system, a new store and gateway improvements. It eliminates use of wetlands and reduces camp areas near wetlands from 57 acres to 16 acres.

The county board eased several regulations imposed by planners, saying campers could use sensitive “buffer” areas near wetlands for five years, rather than only three. At the time, Lawson’s attorney, former Coastal Commissioner Gary Giacomini, argued for 10 years, saying the campground could sell a conservation easement eliminating camping in the buffer area altogether — and get money to proceed with improvements. Because camping in the buffer areas can produce income of about $500,000 a year, a 10-year easement could be marketed for “real money,” Giacomini noted then.

Another opportunity for the campground to raise money is under consideration by Caltrans, which is weighing acquisition of a conservation easement at sites including Lawson’s to make up for loss of habitat for the red-legged frog during planned freeway improvements through the Novato Narrows.

As it stands, the county plan under review by the state commission allows 513 camping plots, including 213 travel trailer sites, as well as a limited but undetermined number of sites in an upland area. Currently, the campground has 1,233 camping sites. The county also limited trailer owners, who pay rent of $400 a month, to three months of occupancy a year. The area is not zoned for residential use, and county officials said occupancy rules boost tenant turnover and thus public access to the area.

Both trailer owners and environmentalists appealed to the commission.

Timothy Kassouni, representing trailer owners, said Thursday his clients take issue with regulations including the 90-day occupancy rule. Lester, the commission staff deputy, noted the panel could make occupancy regulations even tougher by imposing limits on tenancy during peak summer use.

The issue, Lester added, boils down to “Is it consistent with the Coastal Act?”

Catherine Caufield, a member of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, said the county plan is at odds with coastal regulations in a number of respects, including failure to protect wetlands and buffer zones.

Co-owner Lawson hopes the commission will allow him to continue operating a resort that has been part of the landscape for almost a century, but worries that piling on restrictions “will only lead to our business failure,” as he told county supervisors two years ago when flanked by consultants, including Rusty Areias, a former state parks director and former Coastal Commission chairman.

Malibu Residents Oppose Overnight Camping Plan

February 24, 2010 by · Comments Off on Malibu Residents Oppose Overnight Camping Plan 

More than 100 outraged residents attended a public meeting Tuesday (Feb. 23) in Santa Monica, Calif., to voice their ongoing opposition of a plan to allow overnight camping at certain parks within city limits. Many threatened to file lawsuits to stop the plan, according to the Malibu Times.

The Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (SMMC) and its sister organization, Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA), held the meeting to receive public comment on a draft environmental impact report (EIR) for its proposed Malibu Parks Public Access Enhancement Plan, which includes the creation of 71 overnight camping sites at five Malibu parks. The organizations will be accepting public comment until March 22, at which time the California Coastal Commission will review the plan.

The plan, long opposed by numerous Malibu residents who say it increases the risk of fires, would create overnight camping sites at Bluffs Park and Latigo, Ramirez, Escondido and Corral canyon parks; a total of 183 parking spaces within those five parks; and improvements to local trails to create the Coastal Slope Trail that will connect the east and west ends of Malibu. All five parks targeted for overnight camping have, in recent years, been burned or threatened by a wildfire. Though the proposed plan would prohibit campfires, residents doubt the extent to which that rule would be enforced.

In addition, the plan would allow 32 special events (for parties of up to 200 people) per year at the conservancy’s Ramirez Canyon property. Public events and tours with a maximum of 40 people would be allowed year-round, seven days a week. A minimum of 10 public events per month could be conducted at Ramirez, Escondido or Corral canyon parks, and a minimum of 12 tours would be permitted per month.

Many residents at Tuesday night’s meeting, including some who live on Malibu Road located beneath Bluffs Park, threatened to file multiple lawsuits against the SMMC and MRCA, adding to an active suit filed against them by the city of Malibu after the plan was approved by the California Coastal Commission last year.

Despite having been accused of “NIMBYism” by parks enhancement plan advocates, numerous Malibu residents, including city officials and city council candidates, stressed the issue of public safety as their main concern. Many who reside in the fire-prone canyons told SMMC and MRCA officials that the draft EIR does not address various safety issues.

The residents said the EIR lacks guaranteed supervision of the campsites by park rangers, who would enforce the prohibition of campfires.

Though the EIR states that camping would not be allowed during red flag conditions, such as high winds that caused the 2007 Corral Canyon Fire, “it also said supervision of the campsites would be limited to when the campsites are reserved,” Corral Canyon resident Ryan Weiss said. “If somebody’s camping there illegally, they’re not going to be supervised. And if there are red flag conditions, nobody’s going to be supervising because nobody’s supposed to be camping.”

Malibu City Council candidate Steve Scheinkman was skeptical of how adequate enforcement could be afforded, given the limited funding of state agencies in this economic recession.

While all residents who testified at the meeting emphasized the importance of campsite supervision, some warned that fire risk would still exist from cigarette smokers.

“We’ve talked about cold camping with no fires but the bigger problem is cigarette smoking,” Councilmember John Sibert said at the meeting. “We haven’t found a way to stop that yet. Simply having somebody around helps, but it’s not going to solve the problem.”

Sibert recalled a fire in 2007 that started in the Bluffs Park area after a cigarette was allegedly flicked onto Pacific Coast Highway, which, in minutes, burned down multiple houses on Malibu Road (the cause of the fire was never determined by officials).

“You’re dealing with a number of hiking spots where people will smoke cigarettes. This has got to be one of your primary considerations,” Sibert said.

Residents also said the EIR did not address the issue of evacuation from canyons during a wildfire.

“We have one way in and one way out, and by a fire erupting where you proposed camping (in the canyons) you are essentially blocking our only way out,” Paul Mora, who lost his home to the 2007 Corral Canyon Fire, said at the meeting. “People will die and you will have this on your hands. I don’t think you want that on your hands.”

City Planning Commissioner and city council candidate John Mazza found fault with the plan’s proposal to construct new water lines for the campsites, which would connect to 10,000-gallon water tanks.

“The 10,000-gallon tank you’re proposing is like dumping a Dixie cup of water on a forest fire,” Mazza said at the meeting.

Mazza suggested relocating all proposed overnight camping sites to beaches such as Leo Carrillo State Beach or Westward Beach.

Lastly, residents urged SMMC and MRCA officials to take their concerns seriously, and to incorporate solutions to them in the EIR to avoid lawsuits.

“I urge you not to dictate to us, but to reach out to residents of Malibu because we all live in the Santa Monica Mountains and we deserve that respect,” Malibu City Council candidate Lou La Monte said at the meeting.

RV Park’s Duneland Could Get Federal Protection

January 5, 2010 by · Comments Off on RV Park’s Duneland Could Get Federal Protection 

About 50 acres of coastal dunes at the Lawson’s Landing campground at Dillon Beach along the California coast could become protected wetlands as the result of a $1 million federal grant.

The National Coastal Wetlands Protection Grant is part of an overall effort by federal and state agencies and local environmental organizations to turn about 400 acres of the Dillon Beach property into a conservation area – while allowing the popular campground to continue operations, according to the Marin Independent-Journal.

“We have over 900 acres, and we’ve taken 400 of the most unique and sensitive acres in the south ranch and made it available for conservation easements,” said co-owner Michael Lawson. “We’re still a public recreational area. We want to be a mechanism for change and improvement in the natural environment out here.”

The federal grant would allow the California Coastal Conservancy, a state agency, and the nonprofit Trust for Public Land to purchase a conservation easement from the campground. Supporters say that preserve would protect the habitat of more than 14 rare, threatened and endangered species, including the California red-legged frog, from development – a move they say is vital even though the coastal lands would be impossible to develop.

“Buying a conservation easement includes some legal protections, such as a guarantee of public access and habitat management,” said Joel Gerwein, a project manager for the Coastal Conservancy. “Even if the owner was forced to sell, the buyer couldn’t put up mansions in the uplands, close off public access or let the habitat degrade. And getting that protection in place is the first step toward enhancing and restoring the habitat that’s out there. No one is going to put resources toward a restoration project until the property is protected in perpetuity.”

Yet the federal grant money will remain in limbo until the state provides $500,000 in matching funds.

“Unfortunately, our source of funding for that has been frozen for over a year now,” said Coastal Conservancy spokesman Dick Wayman. “In the meantime, we have a lot of work to do on the easement.”

That work includes setting the boundaries of the easement and settling other details, such as how to provide public access to the preserve and whether livestock grazing would be allowed inside the conservation area.

Supporters of the project hope that the federal grant area would become part of a much larger preserve that will include a 203-acre conservation easement provided by Caltrans as part of a road-widening project.

A West Marin fixture for more than 90 years, the 960-acre Lawson’s Landing campground won the support of county supervisors for a 2008 plan to cut its 1,233 campsites by half while protecting many of its most sensitive coastal areas. But several local environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club and the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, cried foul at a provision that would allow camping in “buffer” areas near wetlands for five years.

The Environmental Action Committee has raised its objections with the state Coastal Commission, which is expected to make a final decision about the Lawson’s plan this spring.

“We were only asking for Lawson’s to comply with state law, and we hope the Coastal Commission will uphold that,” said Executive Director Fred Smith. “I think in some ways what the (proposed conservation) easement does is make it easier for them to comply with many of our concerns. It provides a great means of helping the Lawsons protect a lot of really key habitat as part of their master planning process.”

Both the campground’s owners and the environmental groups working to create the preserve say they’re committed to removing invasive European beach grass, planted decades ago to keep the area’s sand dunes in one place. Doing so, however, is likely to prove a test of the ability of the campground and the nature preserve to exist side by side.

“The beach grass was originally put there to stabilize the sand dunes – and certain people aren’t going to enjoy camping there if there’s sand blowing over them all of the time,” Gerwein said. “But that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be a part of the site where sand was allowed to move freely, maybe somewhat further away from the camping area.

“I think this shows it’s possible for coastal access to be compatible with resource protection,” Gerwein said.

Legoland California Plans Water Park, RV Park

September 4, 2009 by · Comments Off on Legoland California Plans Water Park, RV Park 

llc_entrance_thumbLegoland California has submitted plans to the city of Carlsbad for a water park with rides, RV park, outdoor dining and shops on a 7.3-acre portion of its 350-acre property.

Legoland officials declined comment on the plans but Van Lynch, a Carlsbad senior planner, explained that Merlin Entertainment Groups, an entity largely owned by Blackstone Capital Partners, submitted plans on Aug. 25 for a project being dubbed the “Waterworks Cluster,” according to the San Diego Daily Transcript.

While Dieter Ronchetti, Legoland spokesman, wouldn’t provide details about the Waterworks Cluster, he indicated he hopes to “unveil the new land next year.”

So does the sluggish economy warrant adding to the theme park?

Ronchetti said yes.

“Last year was a record year for us in terms of attendance,” Ronchetti said, without revealing numbers, “and we are currently running ahead of 2008.”

As plans become clear for park rides, the California Coastal Commission is scheduled to consider a measure next week that could create a campground at the park.

Plans are subject to change but currently call for tent/shelters on site, bathroom facilities, a hospitality tent, central fire ring and a small outdoor amphitheatre.

“Additional overnight camping facilities, the main source of lower-cost visitor and recreational facilities, are needed throughout the San Diego coastal region,” the Coastal Commission staff stated, before adding that additional camping facilities should also be provided in a regional park within the city.

That in turn, the staff report stated, should be in conjunction with such low cost facilities on private lands.

Coastal Commission staff has been pushing for lower-cost options at multiple properties around the county during the past two years.

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