California Coastal Trail Through Big Sur 

Posted 5/2010


During the Coast Property Owner Association's annual meeting held at the River Inn in November, a number of resident's questions and comments revolved around the issue of the California Coastal Trail (CCT). Below is a brief local history of this issue, a description of our community’s effort to shape a positive outcome, and a request for your input.

History In Brief

State Senate Bill 908 (SB 908) was signed into law on October 2, 2001, with the intention of creating a coastal hiking trail through California, from Oregon to Mexico. That law specifies that the California Coastal Conservancy, in consultation with the California Coastal Commission and the California Department of Parks and Recreation, will coordinate development of the trail.

In April of 2007, the Coastal Conservancy issued a request for services, asking for proposals from contractors on how they would plan the portion of the CCT that passes through Big Sur (from the Carmel River to San Carpoforo Creek in San Luis Obispo County). The following month a meeting was held in the Big Sur Grange Hall to discuss the Conservancy's trail planning process (the meeting was held largely through the efforts of Jack Ellwanger).

At the meeting, concern was expressed that a contractor-based planning process would likely result in a plan that did not adequately reflect input from the Big Sur community. A committee of residents self organized (what we seem to do when a crisis looms) to create a trail planning process that takes into account our local interests and sensitivities.

The theory is that a community-based planning process has the best chance of planning a trail that is non-controversial and works for the people who will live with it, the Big Sur community. The committee worked for about a year drafting a planning process that is inclusive of Big Sur residents and other stakeholders, including public agencies with land the CCT will cross and the general public.

All of this occurred prior to the Basin Complex Fire in 2008. During the fire and the following winter CCT negotiations were suspended. Since the fire, we have a new Assemblyman, Bill Monning, who has offered to help work out a solution.

Over the last few months Assemblyman Monning has organized meetings between community members, the Coastal Conservancy, and representatives from other state and local agencies, to try to find common ground on the process that will be used to plan the CCT through Big Sur.

Current Status

To start the meeting process, Assemblyman Monning proposed that the various agencies provide written critiques of the community-based process. As a result, it has become clear that there are a number of significant sticking points between the Coastal Conservancy's position and that of the community trail committee. There are other points of disagreement, but the following seem to be the most significant.

Coastal Conservancy Position
Community Committee Position
OK to plan the CCT across private land. Not OK to plan the CCT across private land unless voluntarily invited by landowner.
Top down process, with final decisions made at a steering committee level. Bottom up process, with final decisions made at a grass roots working group level.
Do not decide on an exact location for the CCT, but only a general idea where it will go. Decide on an exact location for the CCT, to the point that it will be known whose land it will cross.
Do not decide who will be responsible for maintaining and managing the trail and do not include this in the trail plan. Decide which public agency will be responsible for maintaining and managing each portion of the trail, and include this in the trail plan.
Plan a network of multiple CCT routes. Plan one route for one CCT.

The community trail committee believes that its planning process better fulfills the intent of the legislature than the Conservancy's process does. For example:

  • SB 908 states, "The California Coastal Trail shall be developed in a manner that demonstrates respect for property rights and the proximity of the trail to residential uses, and that evidences consideration for the protection of the privacy of adjacent property owners." The trail committee believes its guideline that the CCT not be planned over private land without the owner's voluntary participation shows more respect for private property rights and privacy than the Conservancy's process.

  • The legislature deleted a provision in an early draft of SB 908 that said the CCT "should be a network of multiuser trails," indicating that it did not intend a network of trails. The trail committee believes its guideline that there be one trail alignment is more consistent with this intent than the Conservancy's desire to plan a network of multiple CCTs.

  • The California Coastal Act states, "The Legislature further finds and declares that the public has a right to fully participate in decisions affecting coastal planning, conservation and development; that achievement of sound coastal conservation and development is dependent upon public understanding and support; and that the continuing planning and implementation of programs for coastal conservation and development should include the widest opportunity for public participation." The trail committee believes that its process provides wider opportunity for public participation than the Conservancy's contractor-based process.

Your Input

Nevertheless, so far, the Conservancy has not moved from its position. So, the question is, how do we proceed? Should the community continue to advocate for the community-based planning process? Should the community oppose the CCT? Or, should the Big Sur community agree with the Conservancy's contractor-based planning process? What should CPOA's role be, if any? CPOA would appreciate hearing what you think. You can send an email to, or mail a letter to CPOA, Box 59, Big Sur, CA 93920.

Supporting Documentation

Community Process - Draft Plan

Forest Services Critique

Monterey County Critique

Transportation Agency for Monterey County Critique

CalTrans Critique

Coastal Conservancy Critique

Coastal Conservancy Goals and Needs

Trail Committee's Response to the Costal Conservancy Critique

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