A high note for mountain protections

April 17, 2014 

Ridgeline developments like this will be banned in the Santa Monica Mountains by the county's new rules.

In a vote that will resonate for generations, the California Coastal Commission this week cleared the way for the enactment of a wide-ranging plan to protect the Santa Monica Mountains from development that already has scarred portions of one of the region’s most important environmental and recreational resources.

The 12-member commission voted unanimously in favor of a land use plan adopted last month by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, despite strong opposition from real estate development interests. The Coastal Commission vote was mandated by state law and represents a milestone in the years-long effort to preserve the mountains along the coast as a rural escape for tens of thousands of visitors each year.

The plan will, among many other things, ban ridgeline development, save oaks and other native woodlands, outlaw poisons that can harm wildlife, protect water sources, restrict lighting to preserve the night sky and prevent the opening of new vineyards, which take a toll on the land and water.

“This is a stunning achievement, to get a unanimous vote on a plan that has been on-again, off-again for three decades,” said one of its strongest advocates, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, whose district includes the Santa Monica Mountains. “It’s a tribute to all the stakeholders—environmentalists, equestrians, homeowners, agricultural interests, among others—who came together to find common ground.”

During testimony before the Coastal Commission on Thursday, Yaroslavsky said he had spent two decades on the Board of Supervisors “fighting against ill-conceived developments that have desecrated” the mountains. He told the commission that it now had a “historic opportunity” to stem the damage, an opportunity the commissioners seized.

They left virtually untouched the county’s proposed plan, which was crafted by Yaroslavsky’s office and the Department of Regional Planning. The only substantive addition was a clause that expressly affirmed the right of residents to grow organic gardens through ecologically sound farming methods—a move considered necessary because of misinformation that had been spread about the plan in the days leading up to the commission’s vote.

Much of Thursday’s day-long hearing in Santa Barbara was consumed with people testifying in support of the county’s plan. But one woman used her time to blast the 11th-hour falsehoods aimed at derailing the plan by claiming, among other things, that food gardens would be banned.

“It’s just not fair to those of us who aren’t experts to be given emails that say you’re not going to be able to grow your own food,” said Janet Friesen of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I’m here to say that I don’t think it’s right when there are paid lobbyists who are misleading people.”

Leading the campaign against the county’s plan, called a Local Coastal Program, was Don Schmitz, a consultant and lobbyist who also owns a vineyard in the Santa Monica Mountains. Under the plan, existing vineyards can remain in business, although no new ones would be allowed to open—a restriction that Schmitz criticized during his testimony on Thursday.

He disputed the negative environmental impacts of vineyards, calling the businesses a “significant draw to the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.”

“Not everybody is able or even wants to throw on a backpack and do 10 miles on the Backbone Trail,” Schmitz said of one of area’s tougher hikes.

Now that the Coastal Commission has endorsed the plan’s policy direction, it will take another vote in the months ahead on the details of its implementation. The matter will then move back to the Board of Supervisors for a final vote.

Under the plan, existing vineyards can stay, while new ones will be prohibited.

Mansion "driveways," such as this winding one off Malibu Canyon Road, will be closely reviewed.

The mountains will be protected for future generations from development that scars the environment.

Posted 4/11/14

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