Backs turned on the Coastal Commission.

Sonoma Coast is Saved…For Now

The California Coastal Commission was once again the host of a popular social gathering at their meeting in Santa Rosa last Wednesday April 13th. The reason? California State Parks wants to charge new $8 parking fees for four Sonoma Coast beaches that have historically been free, in attempt to generate funds for themselves. This proposal would limit beach access, especially to low-income residents, create traffic hazards along Highway 1 and probably wouldn’t even generate funds anyway. As you can imagine, Sonoma residents are highly opposed and a full house of concerned citizens gathered at the meeting to protest. After hours of public testimony unanimously against the proposal, the California Coastal Commission finally voted against the fees, but with a catch. The decision was to essentially delay the issue and keep working with State Parks to find more “creative” ways of generating funds.

The only support for State Parks’ proposal came from State Parks itself. Director Lisa Magnat and the state’s roads and trail manager, Karl Knapp, filibustered for nearly an hour on just about every other aspect of the agency except the proposal at hand. In response, the crowd of 500 people stood and turned their backs, making a silent but powerful statement. In contrast, dozens of expert testimonies were made throughout the day defending beach access including a spectacular performance by Sonoma Coast Surfrider chapter activist Cea Higgins, and Reno Keoni Franklin, tribal chair for the Kashia Band of Pomo Indians.

While several commissioners expressed empathy for the public’s comments some were a little less understanding. Commissioner Martha McClure, the representative for the North Coast, managed to make herself look particularly disconnected when she commented how great public transportation to the coast is in Humboldt and Del Norte counties. Residents of this area know this statement could not be farther from the truth, as it is time-consuming, costly, and just plain near impossible to take public transportation to the beach. Commissioner Mark Vargas, infamous for insensitive remarks, made a statement about he himself is a minority of the “small bladder community,” and therefore needs restroom facilities installed at beaches. One man couldn’t take the nonsense anymore and blew a whistle at the commissioners yelling, “I’m a whistle blower, someone has to blow the whistle on these people.”

At the end of the day residents had mixed feelings on the outcome. On one hand beach access along the Sonoma Coast remains free for now. On the other, the Coastal Commission once again failed to outright uphold the interest of the public. The issue is instead delayed until the agencies can reach a consensus. This is not only concerning to residents of the Sonoma Coast, but Humboldt County as well. This decision sets the tone for the rest of the California coast and Humboldt County beaches could be next.

For more information check out this incredible article by the LA Times.

Marine Protected Areas - Master Plan Almost Approved

If you gaze off into the ocean from our California Coast you might be looking at a Marine Protected Area. This network was completed back in 2012 to safeguard marine life, habitats, and ecosystems. Last Wednesday, April 13th, the California Fish and Game Commission made strides towards improving management and research of these areas.

The first exciting addition to this plan is the overwhelming support for looking to implement tribal co-management of MPAs and include traditional ecological knowledge into adaptive management. This draft also establishes a 10-year management review cycle for evaluating the effectiveness of MPAs instead of the original 5-year cycle. This came as a recommendation by many scientists to provide a more biologically appropriate time scale for these areas to show change. This change does not hinder ongoing research as findings will still be disclosed as they are discovered.

The final decision of the Commission was to approve the final draft Master Plan for Marine Protected Areas in its current form, but wait to adopt it in June to allow for Traditional Ecological Knowledge language review to be completed and integrated.

Inspiration from Dr. Sylvia Earle

I had the pleasure of attending the Golden State Waters Action Summit on Thursday April 14, which brought together some of the worlds greatest ocean stewards, including Dr. Sylvia Earle and Dr. Charles Lester. These experts discussed topics such as marine debris, marine protected areas, climate change adaptation, and exploration and technology. I brought back a short video of Dr. Syliva Earle inspiring the crowd with words on how to combat marine debris.


Delia Bense-Kang serves as the Northcoast Environmental Center’s Marine Protected Area Outreach Coordinator and chairs Surfrider Foundation’s Humboldt Chapter.