Critics Say Battle Over Big Sur Plan Not Ended

Published 1984 in Carmel Pine Cone - written by Michael Gardner

The Coast Property Owners Association may challenge at the ballot box or in court Coastal Commission certification of the Big Sur Local Coastal Program.

That's what Mike Caplin of Palo Colorado Canyon, chairman of the land use plan committee of the CPOA, told the Carmel Pine Cone/Carmel Valley Outlook Monday. The Coastal Commission unanimously certified the land use program for Big Sur following nearly six hours of testimony at the Sept. 13 session in San Francisco.

Included in the certification is the controversial transfer of development credit scheme designed to compensate property owners who will lose building rights in the Viewshed area.

The Big Sur plan states that no new construction will be allowed in any area in the “Viewshed” of Highway 1 or “other major viewing areas.” Those with property in protected areas may sell development rights from their land to be used in areas specified for development known as “receiver sites.”

The provision is seen as a compromise between those who want to protect scenic areas in Big Sur and property owners who believe they have the right to make the best financial use of their property.

Under the transfer of development credit scheme, a viewshed property owner who will lose building rights can get two “units” of credit that can be bought by developers on non-viewshed property.

The transfer of development credit provision is just one of the provisions opposed by Coast Property Owners Association. In an interview with the Carmel Pine Cone/Carmel Valley Outlook after the meeting, Caplin discussed why the CPOA opposes the certification and potential courses of action open to property owners.

"We're going to be meeting soon (between today, Sept. 20 and early next week) to decide exactly what we're going to do,” Caplin said. "I wouldn't be surprised if the committee would do something, in light of all the support the community has shown.”

The property owners presented the Coastal Commission with a petition bearing 847 signatures (about 75%) of Big Sur. Caplin claims the Coastal Commission “ignored” those concerns and others expressed at the Sept. 13 meeting.

The CPOA also asked that a vote be delayed until the Coastal could meet with Big Sur residents. The October Coastal Commission session is scheduled in Carmel. "They simply ignored our requests,” he said.

The Coastal Commission attitude – coupled with several unacceptable provisions in the coastal plan – forces the CPOA to seek further recourse, Caplin said.

Caplin said the property owners may choose to seek a court injunction to block implementation of the plan until after its concerns have been addressed. The key argument in that potential court action would be that the Monterey Board of Supervisors filed to comply with state mandates on notification of public hearings and availability of supporting documents.

“People who requested to be notified of the public hearings were not notified,” he said. “Materials also were not provided.”

Caplin claims that state law requires supportive information to be available six weeks before the public hearing on a land use plan.

However, “some of the materials were not made available until two months after it was adopted by supervisors", he charged. Another alternative would be a public referendum to void the certification and force preparation of a new plan that would …

Caplin promised that local legislators will be contacted to see if there is anything state government can do to force the Coastal Commission to respond to the wishes of the citizenry.

All of those alternatives are to be discussed when the property owners meet within the next few days, he said.

“There is no specific plan at this point. We hope to formulate one. To a large extent, it will depend on the support of the community,” Caplin said. “If there is no support, we may not take any action at all.”

But Caplin also believes the so-called indifference of the Coastal Commission to community concerns raises the bigger question of just how well government must respond to the citizens it is elected to represent. "The real issue is the fact that representational government seems to have failed in this case,” he said.

Caplin pointed out that supervisors when they adopted the coastal plan were “well aware” that the majority of Big Sur residents found fault in the plan and wanted more compromises made. Yet, the plan was adopted over the wishes of the people, he said.

In the interview, Caplin outlined several of the major points of disagreement between the property owners and the land use plan:

  • Transfer of development rights: Caplin claims that if the credit scheme is so good, then it could be voluntary rather than mandatory. He suggests that the plan include language that would allow a Viewshed property owner to choose either the density credits or cash from the government in return for his abandonment of building rights. “We want to make the TDC an option on the part of the property owner – either a density credit or cash at fair market value. If the TDC (provision) is an option rather than enforced, then the property owners could avoid the injustice. If the TDC's are fair and just they would succeed voluntarily, but we don't think they are. If they're fair, people will use them.”
  • The trail system: Property owners oppose language in the trail system which requires a dedication of a 100-foot easement in trail areas if a property owner wants a county permit for “anything,” Caplin said. "If your water system went down and you wanted to put in a new one you could be required to give an easement across your property plus another 100 feet,” Caplin said. This would be disastrous for small parcel owners who would be unable to build on the property or make improvements because of the 100-foot requirement, Caplin argued.
  • Caretaker quarters: Caplin said new restrictions on building caretaker quarters actually will deplete the availability of low and moderate-cost housing in Big Sur because these smaller homes are rented to people of less means. "Big Sur is becoming just a millionaire's community,” Caplin said.
  • More motels: This is one issue that the property owners are not too upset about because the original limit of 2,300 new rooms has been drastically cut to just 300. That cut was a “good move,” however the CPOA still opposes a provision that allows new motels to have up to 60-rooms. Instead, that number should be limited to 30 rooms per each new motel, Caplin said. The 60-unit new motels in the rural areas will encourage corporate motels rather than the traditional mom and pop operations that is traditional in Big Sur,” he said.
  • Federalization of Big Sur: The property owners want “strong" language in the land use plan that would keep Big Sur free of the treat of more federal government takeover. “We want language included in the plan that reflects the historic opposition in the community to the federalization of Big Sur,” he said.


Coast Property Owners Association, P.O. Box 59, Big Sur, CA 93920
© 2004 by Coast Property Owners Association