Highway plan approved over homeowners' objections

Published March 2004 in The Carmel Pine Cone - written by KIMBERLY WHITE

DESPITE HEATED debate and wrangling that lasted into the early evening, the Coast Highway Management Plan was ratified Monday by its steering committee. The document is supposed to help reopen Highway 1 after storm damage and protect Big Sur scenery, but some Big Sur residents say it goes too far.

Several changes to limit the scope of the CHMP suggested by Coast Property Owners Association President Mike Caplin were not accepted by the rest of the 18-member committee. He declined to sign off on the plan, which was finalized despite his objections.

“This is majority rule today,” said Alan Perlmutter of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce, who attended the meeting at Hudson House near Pt. Lobos. If decisions had to be made unanimously, “we would still be on the first item,” he said.

Caplin, whose organization fears the wide-ranging CHMP will bring an added layer of bureaucracy to the Big Sur community, said the best residents can hope for is to have a greater voice in the future.

“My single biggest problem is that the boundaries of the highway corridor aren't defined, but the majority of the steering committee seems to be fine with that,” he said.

After the document is amended to include changes adopted at the meeting, it will be submitted to the Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council, which will then recommend the make-up of an oversight group to help guarantee the CHMP is implemented.

“We tailored the plan to meet local needs,” maintained Caltrans' Aileen Loe, adding that she is not aware of any other highway management plan in the country prepared with so much input.

Caltrans initiated the CHMP after storms in 1983 and 1998 caused landslides and months-long closures along sections of Highway 1. The initial goal of the plan — which covers the 75-mile stretch of the world-famous road from San Carpoforo Creek near San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County to the Carmel River — was to get the road open more quickly after future storms.

Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter said the document is advisory and doesn't impose any new rules on property owners.

But Caplin's fears were realized Thursday when the coastal commission staff said it wanted to see many of the highway management plan's recommendations added to the Monterey County Local Coastal Plan.

“The CHMP is not a regulatory document, but that doesn't mean valuable parts of it should not be included in the county's LCP,” said Charles Lester, district director of the coastal commission.

Caplin also complained that many of the concerns residents raised in letters sent to Loe were ignored, including objections to the corridor's vaguely defined boundaries. And Caplin said the language that requires the restoration of the highway's “scenic quality” could be used to tell landowners they can't build on their land, or allow the government to purchase and subsequently raze their homes.

“The background reports in the plan talk about how residences and roads to residences detract from the scenery, and we're saying, ‘No they don't. They're evidence of the existence of the community,'” he added.

He also stated during the meeting that the Big Sur community is “struggling for survival” in the face of increasing public-agency buyouts of private property.

“It's like a chess game down here,” he said. “Every time there's an acquisition, it's a move on the chess board, and the people who live here know it and they feel the pressure.”


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