My Comments – Draft San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan

As the deadline for public comment approaches, I am sharing my comments on the San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan. The conservation partners that oversee and manage the property are a great group of organizations, but Santa Cruz County, as Lead Agency, needs some public support in helping this plan to protect the precious property for wildlife and clean water for future generations.

As we can see from the massive erosion, trash, ad hoc trail creation, and homeless trespass issues on parks around Santa Cruz, it is not easy to manage natural areas once they become open to the public.  Here, we have private organizations, together for the first time, attempting to open thousands of acres for public recreation. It will be difficult enough for these organizations to raise the funding to support the management of these uses, but add on top of that the monitoring required by this plan and one wonders how this can succeed.

If you join me in commenting on this plan, please be sure to urge the County to make all of the mitigation reporting available to the public, so together we can learn how this experiment both provides for public access while protecting our North Coast streams and wildlife.

Click here for the County’s environmental review document.

Click here for the Public Access Plan.

My comments:

Coastal Act Questions

  • What portion of the proposed project is in the State-designated Coastal Zone?
  • What portion of proposed recreational trail use would take place in Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA), which are protected by Coastal Commission policy?
    • How has the project proponent consulted with the Coastal Commission about ESHA concerns?
  • What aspects of recreational trail use are permissible in ESHA?
    • To what degree must trails be redesigned to transform them from recreational to interpretive trails to meet the requirements of trail development through ESHA?

Mitigation Measures and Public Reporting Questions

The approval process relies on a CEQA process of Mitigated Negative Declaration, requiring mitigation measures to be enacted and ongoing monitoring and maintenance to reduce certain impacts to below certain thresholds.

  • What are the specific baseline versus thresholds of significance for the all of the potential impacts that require mitigation to bring the proposed project impacts to a level of “less than significant?”
  • To what degree does the Initial Study rely on the “Construction Protocols” (Plan, p. 7-25) included in the Access Plan in order to determine that a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient for environmental review and approval? Which Protocols are omitted from the Plan in the Initial Study, and why?
  • To what degree does the Initial Study rely on the “Trail Maintenance Guidelines” (Plan, p. 7-38) included in the Access Plan in order to determine that a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient for environmental review and approval? Which Guidelines are omitted from the Plan in the Initial Study, and why?
  • To what degree does the Initial Study rely on the “adaptive management strategies” (Initial Study, p. 58) included in the Access Plan in order to determine that a CEQA Mitigated Negative Declaration is sufficient for environmental review and approval? Which specific strategies from the Plan are omitted as specific mitigations in the Initial Study, and why?
  • How will the public be informed about the implementation and monitoring of all of the mitigation measures that made it possible to rely on a Mitigated Negative Declaration process/approval, including success of the adaptive management strategies, construction protocols and trail maintenance guidelines?
    • Will the Lead Agency require regular reporting?
      • If so, in the absence of quantitative thresholds to monitor, how will the project proponent know what must be included in those reports?
      • Why has the public not been informed about these reporting requirements during this public review process?

Enforcement Questions

The Plan and Initial Study seem to rely on policies and regulations with some education and signage to reduce the impacts of the extensive new recreational uses of this property. And yet, there is no clear dedication to enforcement mentioned.

  • What evidence does the Lead Agency cite to support that non-enforcement-based approaches work to deter uninvited recreational uses such as with this project?
  • To what extent are the Project Proponents dedicated to legal enforcement of the recreational use policies associated with the Plan?
    • What specific County, State, or Federal laws/regulations/codes would the Project Proponents use to enforce use restrictions on the property?
      • To what extent are law enforcement personnel dedicated to assuring prosecution of those laws?
      • To what extent is the District Attorney’s office dedicated to assuring prosecution of those laws?
    • What evidence does the Lead Agency or Project Proponents cite for the ratio of trail users who abide by restrictions versus those who do not in natural areas in the region?
      • What level of effort do the Project Proponents believe will be necessary to control use to designated trails?
      • How will the public access the statistics related to enforcement activities on the property?

Conservation Easement-Project Purpose Questions

The document informs the public of seemingly contradictory directions of the conservation easement: “…allowing for public access is a requirement of the Conservation Easement that protects the property. (Plan, p. 1-3; Initial Study p. 12) versusThe Conservation Easement gives the SRL the right to allow public access. (p. 1-5)

Questions:

  • In what ways has legal counsel determined that it is a requirement that the owners provide public access on the property?
  • How does the cited easement language giving the property owner the ‘right to allow public access’ correlate with the requirement for public access?
  • How important was it to the Lead Agency review that the conservation easement may require versus allow public access?
  • What communications from the Easement holders including their legal counsel(s) indicate the degree to which public access must be allowed?

“The Public Access Plan includes a Recreational Access Plan and a Research and Education Access Plan, though the focus of the Public Access Plan is recreational access and regional trail connections. While all research and educational activities are not necessarily open to the public, they are included as part of the Public Access Plan because of the education potential and because research and education will be supported by the same trails and access features required for recreational access. Research access will be managed by the owners, while educational and special use will be managed by the Land Trust.”

The Initial Study says The purpose of the proposed San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan is to identify the short-and long-term vision and tools to initiate and maintain public access for at least 10 years.” (Initial Study p. 12)

  • How was the level of public access determined?
  • Why was the level of public access not included in the CEQA project purpose statement?
  • How does the project proponent distinguish between public access and private access uses of the property?
  • How does the project proponent foresee the ratio of public access versus private access uses of the property over the course of the 10-year project timeframe?
  • To what extent have public entities or private funding agencies mandated public access as part of their funding obligations?
    • If so, to what extent have these funding obligations informed the project purpose?

Public Outreach and Engagement Questions

Extensive activities are outlined in the Plan and Initial Study including the types of attendees, but not the issues raised. Of the many activities, the document states that only the input from the community meetings was used to revise the Plan.

  • Why did the Plan authors spend so much time and money on public outreach and engagement?
  • In what ways did feedback from the community meetings affect the content and direction of the Plan?
  • Why wasn’t input from the other extensive public outreach and engagement activities used to revise the Plan?
  • How did the Plan authors apply social science tools to analyze and summarize the public input into the planning process?

Trail Planning Questions

“RECREATION 4.1 Designate a Skyline-to-Sea Trail corridor through San Vicente Redwoods, extending from Empire Grade to the Cotoni-Coast Dairies property.” (Plan, p 3-4)

Questions

  • How was it determined that regional trail connections are a priority for the property?
    • What percentage of recreational needs will be met by this priority?
      • How was this determined?
    • What socio-economic demographic is most likely to be served by such a priority?
      • How was this determined?
    • How was it determined that a Skyine-to-Sea Trail corridor should be a priority for the property?
      • What percentage of recreational needs will be met by this priority?
        • How was this determined?
      • What socio-economic demographic is most likely to be served by such a priority?
        • How was this determined?

Trail planning for the Laguna tract has been conducted in coordination with CDFW…” (Initial Study, p. 28)

Questions:

  • Has the CDFW approved through trail use by the project proponents?
  • What level of environmental review has CDFW undertaken in order to allow the current trail access, which would be less than the additional proposed access?
  • How does CDFW have the authority to permit uses for the next 10 years on an Ecological Reserve without an approved management plan?
  • Has the Coastal Commission previously communicated to CDFW about visitor use at the Ecological Reserve in the absence of an approved management plan?
  • Would the target group for the Laguna Parcel trail – recreational trail users – be impacting Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve?
  • How is the trail system at the Ecological Reserve, and, by extension into the Laguna Parcel, an interpretive trail versus a recreational trail?

Alternatives Analysis Questions

Allowed Uses;

“Hiking, Bike Riding, Horseback Riding, and Dog Walking: These uses result in similar effects in regard to trail erosion, in that trail design and maintenance have a greater effect on erosion than the type of use.” (Initial Study, p. 16)

  • How has the Lead Agency determined that these trail uses have comparable effects on trail erosion potential?
    • What scientific evidence supports such a claim?

“These four uses also have been found to have similar impacts on wildlife.”

  • How has the Lead Agency determined that these trail uses have comparable effects on wildlife disturbance potential?
    • What scientific evidence supports such a claim?
    • How can the public understand the proposed project impacts when there is also a contradictory statement quoted in the Study from the Santa Cruz Puma Group “dog walking is understood to deter use of the area by medium and large mammals for sensitive life stage activities such as breeding and denning.”

Education Questions

“EDUCATION 2.1 Encourage research projects that will inform management of public access, such as studies that monitor environmental impacts of visitors on the reserves.” (Plan, p. 3-5)

  • Why do the project proponents limit the research to that which informs management of public access?

Biological Impacts Questions

“D. BIOLOGICAL RESOURCES; Would the project: 4. Interfere substantially with the movement of any native resident or migratory fish or wildlife species or migratory wildlife corridors, or impede the use of native wildlife nursery sites? (Initial Study, p. 59)

The Plan (p.) notes that dog walking would have a substantive adverse effect on cougar nursery sites. The Initial Study appears to rely on Plan components as mitigations without listing them as such, including:

  • property will be closed at night providing wildlife an opportunity to move through public access areas”
  • the adaptive management strategies of the proposed San Vicente Redwoods Public Access Plan

“Construction Protocol BR-1.8. Where wetlands or streams cannot be avoided, appropriate approvals from the USACE (for impacts to regulated wetlands or areas below the ordinary high water mark of regulated streams) and/or the RWQCB and the CDFW (for impacts to regulated wetlands, riparian vegetation, or areas below the top of bank of regulated streams) shall be secured prior to initiating work in these areas. The measures included in any such authorizations shall be incorporated into the design.” (Initial Study, p. 56)

  • Are wetlands considered ESHA by the Coastal Commission?
  • What kind of consultation and permitting is possible or will be required to develop recreational trails in wetlands according to Coastal Commission policy?
  • How many linear feet and acres of trail or other access infrastructure, including the proposed parking lot, will pass through Coastal Commission (“1 parameter”) ESHA wetland?

Public Services Questions

  1. PUBLIC SERVICES

“Would the project: Would the project result in substantial adverse physical impacts associated with the provision of new or physically altered governmental facilities, need for new or physically altered governmental facilities, the construction of which could cause significant environmental impacts, in order to maintain acceptable service ratios, response times, or other performance objectives for any of the public services?”  (Initial Study, p. 88).

“Policy Access 2.3. Work with partners to ensure adequate provision of emergency services.”

  • What data does the Lead Agency rely on to establish no potential significant impacts under this section?
    • How has the Lead Agency been informed of the baseline requirements of local agencies in police or fire agency responses to emergencies associated with recreational trail use?
  • Does the Lead Agency rely on the policies listed in this section as mitigations?
  • What is the baseline government facility capacity in the service area?
    • How has the Lead Agency determined that the additional recreational use will not require additional government facilities?

 

Recreation Impacts Questions 

  1. Recreation

“Would the project increase the use of existing neighborhood and regional parks or other recreational facilities such that substantial physical deterioration of the facility would occur or be accelerated?” (Initial Study, p. 89)

The Initial Study fails to mention of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve and the Cotoni Coast Dairies properties in this analysis.

  • What is the baseline state of trail use including physical deterioration of trails at the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve?
  • How has the Lead Agency determined that additional use of the Bonny Doon Ecological Reserve would not substantively deteriorate the trails on this sensitive and highly erosive area?
    • What are the specific thresholds of significance applied in this case?
  • How have the project proponents assured that their negotiations and plans are not ‘pre-dispositional’ to federal decision making processes for the Cotoni Coast Dairies property?
  • How do the project proponents envision allowing adjacent natural areas managers to control the level of use on their lands with the trails at the Laguna tract and Skyline-to-Sea?
    • How will the project proponents cooperatively manage for the recreational, social, and biological carrying capacities of these adjacent lands?
    • How might the project proponents attempt to influence future managers who might consider closing the through trails on their lands, therefore affecting the use of the proposed project?
  • What would be the baseline state of adjacent trail use without the Skyline-to-Sea proposed plan component on the Cotoni Coast Dairies property?
  • How has the Lead Agency determined that additional use of the Skyline-to-Sea proposed plan component on the Cotoni Coast Dairies property would not substantively deteriorate the trails on that area?
    • What are the specific thresholds of significance applied in this case?

 

Other Questions 

  1. MANDATORY FINDINGS OF SIGNIFICANCE

“2. Does the project have impacts that are individually limited, but cumulatively considerable? (“cumulatively considerable” means that the incremental effects of a project are considerable when viewed in connection with the effects of past projects, the effects of other current projects, and the effects of probable future projects)?”  (Initial Study, p. 102).

The Initial Study fails to list any connection of increased recreational use with other current and emerging future projects with which some of the project proponents are involved, such as Cotoni Coast Dairies, Cement Plant Reuse, the Rail Trail, Wilder Ranch, County Beaches, etc. In order to effectively establish cumulative impacts analysis, one must first establish a baseline and then analyze expected increases during the timeframe of the project.

Questions:

  • Why does the traffic impact analysis only examine effects of Empire Grade, when significant increased use is anticipated by the ‘Skyline-to-Sea’ aspect of the proposal, hence affecting Highway 1 traffic?
    • What are the cumulative impacts of the proposed project which will coincide with increased Highway 1 traffic
  • State Parks has calculated use of its North Coast parks, why were these data not presented to the public to establish a recreational use baseline?
  • What is the current recreational use (# users) baseline for Wilder Ranch State Park?
  • What is the current recreational use (# users) baseline for County beaches in the vicinity of the proposed project alternatives?
  • What is the current recreational use (# users) baseline for Davenport Beach, where users share a parking lot that will also serve the Skyline-to-Sea proposed trail?
  • What is the current recreational use baseline (# users) for bicyclists using the Highway 1 corridor adjacent to the proposed project alternatives, including major bicycling events?
  • What % increase is projected over what is currently experienced in the vicinity of the proposed project alternatives?
  • What are thresholds of significance for cumulative effects for additional recreational users presented by this project, including on:
    • Parking in areas in the vicinity of the Skyline-to-Sea trailhead on Swanton Road
  • What are the cumulative effects of this proposed project on wildlife, especially migratory and nursery behaviors, when taken into consideration with:
    • Forestry activities on the property
    • Stewardship activities on the property
    • Non-public use of the property

 

 

 

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