Survey shows support for Coast Dairies, but neighbors have more questions
The rolling hills above Davenport, yellowed by three years of low rainfall, look out over the Pacific Ocean. Pine and redwood trees dot the upper skyline, where the piercing cries of hawks ring out. “Just wait until there’s water,” says Noel Bock, leader of the Davenport North Coast Association. “It’s just kind of barren right now because of the drought. The views up on the hill are really great, super beautiful.”
This is the Coast Dairies property, owned by the federal government, which Bock worries will be “loved to death” if it gets turned into a national monument—a change the Davenport North Coast Association opposes, partly due to traffic concerns in a small town that already gets overwhelmed on the weekends.
It’s the same stunning property that Steve Reed, campaign manager for the Cotoni-Coast Dairies National Monument, would be excited to open up as a federally protected land for everyone to share, a move that would take an act of Congress or a declaration by President Barack Obama—and a lot more planning. Reed and former Santa Cruz County Treasurer Fred Keeley are promoting a new survey that found 84 percent of Santa Cruz County residents support the designation of a national monument on the property. That number dropped to 72 percent when respondents were read statements of what supporters and opponents of the monument would say about it.
Reed and Keeley say they used the language of opponents in their survey. But Ted Benhari of the Rural Bonny Doon Association, which has concerns about the project, says he wasn’t crazy about the survey’s wording. The language left out fears about lessening ecological diversity, and he says the survey made it sound like the land wouldn’t still be protected if it weren’t made a national monument. The association is also worried that the Bureau of Land Management, which will be in charge of the land, will be stretched too thin to take care of it. Additionally, Bock says that the state beaches surrounded by the property, which are already neglected by California State Parks, will be greatly harmed by the influx.
“There are some issues that have arisen, and we don’t think they should be dismissed,” Keeley says. “We can disagree about how much impact this will have on Bonny Doon and Davenport. Will there be increased traffic? Of course. Will there be more tourists? We hope so. Will there be more trash? I don’t think so.”
Another important question may be one of funding, which isn’t guaranteed by monument status, to provide for the monument’s basic needs. Benhari says that it would still be hard to get any new funding through Congress, but Keeley notes that national monuments get eight times more funding than other federal lands.
Activists say there could be threats to public safety, as the planners did not reach out to Cal Fire or the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office early on to start a discussion. Santa Cruz County Sheriff Jim Hart notes that he isn’t “in a position to determine whether it’s a good thing or bad thing,” but he is concerned that Cal Fire and the sheriff’s office were left out of the early stages of the planning process.
Hart says it would cost $700,000 to $800,000 to pay an extra deputy to police the North Coast 24 hours a day. He worries that with steep cliffs, strong ocean currents and the looming threat of forest fires, an influx of thousands of new visitors could pose a huge risk.
Indeed, public safety is something that still has to be ironed out, says District 1 County Supervisor Ryan Coonerty, who has a little over 3,000 constituents split between Davenport and Bonny Doon, and has been talking closely with both planners and neighbors. He boils his major concerns down into three areas, “trauma, traffic and trash”—all of which, he says, need to be addressed on the North Coast regardless of whether there’s a national monument or not.
Coonerty has worked with Davenport residents to make sure their concerns were heard. He went to Washington to meet with White House officials, as well as Rep. Anna Eshoo and Sen. Barbara Boxer, who have proposed bills to make the Coast Dairies a national monument. Although each bill is a long shot to pass in a Republican-controlled Congress, their language would hopefully serve as a template for Obama’s declaration if he makes one, Coonerty says.
Coonerty adds that the proposal is still early in the public process, and there will be more chances for input, including through the Bureau of Land Management, further down the road if Coast Dairies does get its designation.
Keeley and Reed say this is the time to push for a monument, as it’s an action presidents often take as they’re about to leave office. They say some of the details for the space’s use can be ironed out later.
But that roadmap is the kind that doesn’t sit well with Sheriff Hart, who would rather feel confident that the monument—if there’s going to be one—has the resources it needs. “It’s a lot like building a house without building codes or plumbing or electricity,” Hart says. “You have to have the infrastructure in place.”
Keeley and Reed say they would like to give the people what they want. And according to their poll data, the people of Santa Cruz County overwhelmingly want recreational green space on the North Coast. Keeley notes that when Davenport and Bonny Doon neighbors wanted to help secure the $45 million CEMEX parcel in 1998, he helped secure $6 million in state funding—so, he says, other Californians farther away from the park have a stake in it, too.
“Our view is this,” says Keeley. “The people of Davenport and Bonny Doon love Coast Dairies. The people of Santa Cruz, Capitola and Watsonville love Coast Dairies. There’s a disagreement about how best to love it.”
VIEW FROM THE TOP Leaders of the Coast Dairies campaign want President Obama to make a designation before he leaves office.