Highway plan goes too far, coast homeowners say
Published March 2004 in The Carmel Pine Cone - written by Paul Miller
What started as an effort to secure a permit-in-advance for damage that will surely hit Highway 1 in future winter storms has turned into a hot potato as some Big Sur property owners accuse Caltrans of going far beyond its mandate.
"The Coast Highway Management Plan was supposed to ensure the road is kept in a safe condition, but some elements have crept in which aren't beneficial to our community," said Big Sur resident Alan Perlmutter at a meeting of the Coast Property Owners Association last month.
The plan, which is nearing final approval, affects property far from Highway 1. According to maps prepared by Caltrans, the management plan "corridor" stretches more than 20 miles inland and includes most of Carmel Valley and the watersheds of numerous rivers and streams in Big Sur.
"This plan is about the coast and what makes it so special, so we picked geographic boundaries," said Aileen Low of Caltrans. But she said the agency wouldn't assert "any regulatory authority" over viewshed, property rights or erosion control outside the immediate, 80-foot-wide Highway 1 right of way.
That was little solace to some property owners who are concerned that such a wide ranging document will inspire new permit conditions by Monterey County or the California Coastal Commission.
"The coastal commission staff is already on record saying they want anyone applying for a permit in Big Sur to show they're complying with the coast highway management plan," said Lisa Kleissner of the CPOA.
"I only heard about the thing last week," said Dan Keig, who owns several hundred acres on the east side of the highway. "Shouldn't somebody have notified me that these changes were being worked on?"
According to Loe, the wide-ranging scope of the highway management plan stems from lengthy closures of the road in 1983 and 1998, necessitating millions of dollars in repairs and cutting off residents for months at a time, which made a comprehensive plan for quick repairs to the road an obvious necessity. Also, the road's incomparable scenery led to its 1996 designation as an "All American Road" by the Federal Highway Administration.
"California's Big Sur Coast and the highway that brings people to it are national treasures," the draft report says. "Countless travelers cherish memories of their highway experiences: scale-defying views from high above the boundless Pacific Ocean; dark and verdant passages lined with giant redwoods; stops at rustic facilities along the way."
The plan can be downloaded at http://www.dot.ca.gov/dist05/projects/bigsur/news.htm.
Kleissner urged property owners in Big Sur who might be affected to attend the meeting of the Coast Highway Management Plan steering committee on March 15 at 1:30 p.m. at the Hudson House near Point Lobos.