First there was a Letter to the Editor in the North Coast Journal:
Whine, whine, whine!
In response to "Cutten run" ("Mailbox," Mar 15), those uptight respondents are what I call "I've got mine, but you can't have yours" hypocrites. No doubt they live in what was an undeveloped area at one time.
Every time a housing development is proposed, this self-righteous indignation raises its ugly head. I remember when a large dairy ranch - now Sunny Brae - was developed. Then Westwood Village, Sunset, Greenview, etc. They all had this same kind of public response. Get real!
More people want to come here, with them will come many positive things. Having big new development is the best way to build community. We had the 13th house built in Sunny Brae. I loved watching all the new people move in. And I still do like people.
The Humboldt County development process is very comprehensive, believe me. I am building 17 houses as a planned unit development in Manila, and nothing is left out of the planning. Mine is sustainable, green, efficient, healthy, beautiful, disaster-enhanced, low maintenance and recreational. Still there is much opposition as usual.
R.S. Riley, Manila
Then there was a letter from Fennel, apparently. I don't have that one yet, but will add it when I do.
And, Richard Salzman started exhorting the Orks to get involved.
Then, there was Hank Sims' commentary on the two letters, where he laid out the facts as opposed to the rhetoric. Discussed previously here and here
These letters are the result:
Letters to the editor, North Coast Journal
Battle of Manila
Why Hank Sims wants to adjudicate a serious development issue is beyond me ("Town Dandy" April 19) Since when does a column writer get between two letter writers and take sides? Mr. Sims went out of his way to make me look wrong, so let me respond to his findings.
Beach Pine trees: Is the NCJ advising coastal residents that it is legal to cut the coastal pine trees on areas of sensitive habitat? Mr. Riley cut 18 trees prior to filing his development plan. If it is ok to remove those, why does he need a special permit to remove the last two?
Sand dunes: I quoted Mr. Riley's own document to show that he is going to bulldoze 6,500 cubic yards of dunes. Mr. Sims defended him by saying they were restoring historic dunes on the property. This is pure fiction. the dunes are "natural now." Mr. Riley plans to disturb 100 percent of the vegetation, including the native dune plants that inhabit the property.
Density: Mr. Sims went to great length but didn't quite have the courage of his convictions to call me a hypocrite. Mr. Sims claimed that i built three homes on 3.7 acres and that is analogous to Riley's 17 homes on 3.4 acres. My parcels were each over 1 acre until the county asked me to separate the wetland area from two of the lots. Had I asked for 7 houses on my 3.7 acres, that would be analogous, although there are no dunes on my parcel either. And just for the record, I have built just one home, not three. Whose error of fact was that?
Michael Fennel, Manila
Sorry, NCJ, it was your call to jump into the middle of Manila's concerns regarding the Riley project, and now you complain that you are in the "tedious position of having to adjudicate their dispute." The Coastal Commission makes the ultimate decisions on any legal issues or requirements regarding the projects subject to the Coastal Act, not the Town Dandy, nor the planning department.
The California Coastal Commission was established by voter initiative in 1972 and was designed to give all Californians a voice in coastal development. It's mission was to protect, conserve, restore and enhance environmental and human based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.
The Coastal Act is most sensitive to adverse impacts if a project lies seaward of the first paved road. This is where the Riley project is located. The NCJ, I assume, has reviewed the Coastal Act and can render a fair judgement on the dispute which they are burdened with - specifically, Public Resources Code sections 30231 (Protection of Water Quality), 30235 (Geologic Stability), 30250 (New Development) and 30251 (Visual Resource Protection). IN addition, new tsunami standards are required that did not exist until recently.
All of us who are overwhelmed with coastal law will be relieved now that the NCJ has assumed the role as adjudicator between the community, developer and California State Coastal Commission. I am looking forward to the NCJ contributing its expertise and participating in the public process at the planning commission meeting on the Riley project.
John Rotter, Trinidad
Regarding Hank Sims column and the West Bay Dunes development proposal in Manila. Your facts are surprisingly incorrect.
First, regarding the pine trees. No, the property owner was not found guilty of cutting down mature beach pines, but whether or not the act of environmental destruction happened is unresolved. Witnesses and neighbors continue to disagree with the official findings.
Second, the sand. Perhaps plans call for the sand to be "moved" instead of "removed" but the essence of the argument remains the same. The building of 17 new homes on the property demands destruction of already existing dunes - an act impossible to environmentally justify.
Third - and this is where you were really off - Michael Fennel, my landlord, has not built three homes on his property as you stated. That lot began with a very nice trailer home already on it, and Michael's only built one new house so far. One, not three. He plans to build another next year which still adds up to fewer than you wrote. In any case, building one house on a slightly less than average sized lot adjacent to other standard sized lots is not equivalent to building 17 houses on 17 far less than average sized lots.
Finally, Michael Fennel is a thoughtful, kind man who has a vested interest in making Manila an ever better place to love. Unlike the West Bay Dunes development folks, he actually lives in the neighborhood - and walks his talk. Seeing him vilified in the Journal surprised and disappointed me. Your column was not only inaccurate, but unfair and insulting to Michael and all the other good people advocating for sensible development and land use in our neighborhood,
Jennifer Savage, Manila.
Ed reply: Though I have not met him, I have no doubt that Michael Fennel is a "thoughtful kind man" I also have no doubts that opponents of the proposed "West Bay Dunes" project being proposed by R. S. Riley care deeply for their neighborhood, and for the dune ecosystem surrounding it. The Journal has no position whatsoever on the Riley project. We have not studied the issue at all, save for what is required by our legal and moral responsibilities to correct potentially libelous or defamatory false statements of fact that have appeared in our letters to the editor section.
Unfortunately, the false statements (or strong implications) in Fennel's original letter ("Mailbox" April 5) are still false. Riley did cut 18 trees on his property prior to filing his development plan, but county code enforcement officers determined that it was legal for him to do so. The county prohibits "major vegetation removal" inside the Coastal Zone without a permit. Code enforcement visited the site, measured the trees cut by Riley and found that they did not meet the county's definition of "major vegetation." It's perfectly acceptable to deplore the cutting of the trees, it is not acceptable to imply that Riley broke the law when he did not.
John Rotter's informed legal analysis would be more persuasive if he actually cited relevant sections of law. Like much of Humboldt County's coastline, the area in question is covered by a local coastal program - a Coastal Commission approved plan that gives a local jurisdiction control over coastal development decisions. (See Public resources Code section 30519(a). The fact that the proposed development does indeed lie seaward of the first paved road gives opponents of the Riley project the right to appeal to the Coastal Commission (if the county ends up approving it), however, the Coastal Commission will evaluate the project based on its compliance with the local coastal program, not the Coastal Act.
It was my mistake to say that Michael Fennel "built three houses" in his own subdivision. I ran a correction last week, but I'll reprint it here: One house already existed, another house was built, another is planned. The point, of course, is that in his original letter, Fennel set out the half acre minimum parcel size as an absolute baseline standard for new development in the area; he did not mention that his own subdivision, undertaken just last year, contains two (not one) parcels of less than that size. It is true that the parcels proposed by the Riley subdivision are much smaller still, and that seems like perfectly justifiable grounds for opposition to the project. We would be remiss, however if we did not point out that the half acre minimum standard is somewhat negotiable, at least in the minds of some Manila residents.
Then, you have letters like this one to the Planning Commission:
Letter to the Humboldt County Planning Commission
April 23, 2007
From: Jerry Martien
Re: Coastal Development Permit, Planned Unit Development & Special Permit Application, ROBERT RILEY, applicant, File No. APN 400-131-05, 1521 Peninsula Drive, Manila
The proposed Riley subdivision in inappropriate to the site and the neighborhood, threatens the rural character of manila, and abuses the County's planning process. I urge you to deny the application.
Unlike some, I do not advocate shooting the applicant, but over the years I've noticed his talent for provoking this kind of negative response. Ever since he made the move from Section 8 landlord to developer, and purchased the old Shires house at 1521 Peninsula, he has been at odds with the neighborhood. He tried to close a traditional beach trail in order to make the parcel more saleable and since that failed he has come up with one subdivision plan after another, each worse than the last and less appropriate to the site and to south Peninsula Drive.
Not long ago, this dune-top stretch of Peninsula was characterized by a rented trailer, with all the features of rural slum living, and the applicant's large For Sale sign. The past few years have seen a number of building projects and renovations that are creating a thriving neighborhood. Each of these has been required to protect natural features and wetlands, and a project at the end of the road was even turned down because it failed to meet these requirements. All have had community input, both in public forums and private discussion. Not all of these meetings have been peaceful, but issues have been resolved and the quality of life -- including the protection of wild space, privacy, and quiet -- has been preserved.
The applicant, on the other hand, has chosen instead to talk to lawyers and to work against the community. His proposal to build seventeen residences of up to 4000 square feet where Mr. Shires' little house once stood is not in keeping with the rural character of Manila and this neighborhood, it does not respect the natural coastal landforms, nor its characteristic shore pine and coastal scrub, and it will drain the run-off of all these homes into its wetlands. It is simply too damn much.
When this is pointed out, the applicant portrays himself as a victim of persecution and declares that like Rob Arkley he's just another developer who believes Humboldt County needs more urban sprawl. This project could be Manila's own little Sunny Brae.
It is astonishing that a project of this magnitude, entirely inappropriate to its natural and social setting, should get this far. Here again, the applicant has taken a legalistic and adversarial approach to the planning process. Using measures designed to preserve natural values, donating to nature what is already natural and ought to remain so, he proposes to level dunes and fill dune hollows and call the result enhancement. By this letter of the law we could level everything up to the lines marked NR and reduce Manila to ten feet above sea level where we already locate our densest housing. Of course a development at that level would not be permitted. Like the shooting option, the strictly legal approach seems justified, but does not lead to a desirable outcome. I ask that you resist this approach to planning.
Please uphold the spirit of our coastal zoning laws, the values of the natural world, the character of the neighborhood, and the community of Manila.
Then, there are times when the wind blows the trees down...
exerpted from Dunes Forum February 8, 2006 Meeting Minutes:
...Storm Damage in the Dunes
...Andrea Pickart shared a brief power-point presentation showing the impact of the New Year’s Eve storm in the dunes. Wind events are the process that drives forest dynamics and blow down event bring about pulsed of pine and spruce regeneration in the dune forest. There was massive tree fall in the dune forest combined with heavy rains which exacerbated the effect. Some trees in the forest that went down were over 150 years old. There will be an article in the next issue of Dunesberry discussing the effects of the Storm. Andrea will be qualitatively monitoring the new gaps in the forest to see what comes up. If there grad students who were interested in a project, this would be a good opportunity for a project....
Andrea Pickart- Restoration is in full swing at Ma-le’l. CDF crews had to be setiched to doing trail clearing and removal of downed trees. They are having a strip flown (low flight at a low scale) from the north end of the spit down to Manila. Low flight at a low scale. (if Manla has money, they might possibly be interested in the flight). There is a topography map of Ma-le’l that will be available when the plan comes out. Tree fall in the dune forest also exposed some more ivy spots and made a mess of some areas...
Sometimes it is ok to bulldoze the dunes and fill in hollows...
Minutes from meeting held November 09, 2005
Carruthers Cove Dune Restoration Project
...European Beach grass removal with heavy equipment commenced this month at Carruthers Cove. The beach grass was dug out with an excavator and then reburied 3meters down and fresh, clean sand was then used to fill in the trenches and re-contour the landscape. This is a pilot project involving RNSP, DPR and other partners. The hope of this project is to remove beach grass on the north end and hold the south end. The southern portion of the project was at Osogan to Carruthers cove. The beach grass was removed around the endangered Abronia. There were two federally endangered species that were impacted by this project, Abronia umbellata ssp. breviflora, and the western snowy plover. Also in the project area was Layia carnosa and the tidewater gobi. The permitting for this project was extremely laborious (CEQA, T&E consultation, coastal commission and coastal conservancy). The project was timed to be outside the breeding season for the snowy plover, also the heavy equipment operators were busy doing watershed restoration until after the first rains. It has been observed that once the winds are over 30 miles per hours, the wind will whisk the dune grass rhizomes about and the project becomes less efficient...
Arcata Eye A high-density cluster dumped on Manila’s dunes Jennifer Savage: – May 8, 2007
Times Standard Dozens decry Manila proposal: Opponents of 17-unit development getting organized James Faulk 04/12/2007
Minutes: Planning Commission
4. ROBERT RILEY, Manila Area (1521 Peninsula Dr.): a Major Subdivision to divide an approximate 8.5 acre parcel into seventeen (17) parcels. 5.1 acres is proposed to be dedicated as open space. The proposed subdivision is to be a Planned Unit Development (PUD) and a two-year Blanket Coastal Development has been requested. A Special Permit is required to allow for fill within a wetland buffer area, for major vegetation removal, and for wetland restoration following fill placement. NOTE: It is recommended a Mitigated Negative Declaration be adopted. CASE No. FMS-06-05, CDP-06-41, PUD-06-03 & SP-06-48; File Nos. APN 400-131-05. (MEW)
Issues: Wet Land Buffer
Staff report and recommendations:
Michael Wheeler gave the staff report describing the Final Map subdivision, proposed tsunami hazard mitigation, drainage via a stormwater collection system and infiltration trench, the Planned Unit Development, and its relationship to the beach and dunes. Mr. Wheeler presented maps, showing the environmental layout and sensitive areas of concern. He spoke about the supplements that have been received from the neighborhood and from the Coastal Commission.
The public comment period was opened.
Dendra Dengler, Manila Community Service District (CSD), read their resolution (#2007.02) to maintain the rural character, preserve natural resources & coastal access into the record.
Aryay Kalaki, Manila, submitted petitions from residents and non-residents of Manila. They object to increasing housing density in their area.
Ken Terpening, Manila, had concerns about the project. He felt the road was not adequate or safe for a subdivision.
Violet Glass, Manila CDS board member, had concerns about subdivision traffic and about area wild life.
Tim Ayers, Manila, asked which community this subdivision is in the best interest of.
John St. Marie, Friends of the Dunes, had concerns about the effect of the subdivision on the dunes.
Miriam Holliman, Manila, submitted a supplement. She had concerns about the rapid urbanization of the coasts. She felt urbanization has destroyed a significant amount of coastal wetlands, degraded coastal water quality and stressed coastal ecosystems. She felt the subdivision would be a gross over development of the property.
Jennifer Savage, Manila, had concerns about traffic and lack of sidewalks. She felt the subdivision would bring more traffic and less safety.
Doris Williamson, Manila, felt the project would be good for the community.
The public comment period was closed.
BY ORDER OF THE CHAIR, this project was continued to June 7, 2007.