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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus

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   Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

Help Save Arana Gulch

November 2011
Smith Blue Butterfly
Photo Jean Brocklebank 2006

The Santa Cruz Group of the Ventana Chapter has opposed building a bicycle connection project through the Arana Gulch greenbelt, an Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA) of the Coastal Zone, for many years. Recently Sierra Club California submitted its statement of opposition to the project as proposed in the City's current application before the Coastal Commission. As an alternative bicycle route, the Santa Cruz Group supports the Rail Trail corridor instead. The Rail Trail (also the corridor for the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Scenic Trail) runs through Santa Cruz for 32 miles and will eventually provide bicycle and pedestrian dedicated pathways, without paving "critical habitat" of an endangered species, as is planned for the Arana Gulch greenbelt.

To help save the Arana Gulch greenbelt, Sierra Club members can go to the Friends of Arana Gulch web site at and sign their online petition. Opposition to development that is not "dependent on the resource" in an ESHA is a test of the Coastal Act. Help save the Coastal Act as well as the Arana Gulch greenbelt. Thanks!

Vicki Lee's Nov. 15th letter to Coastal staff

California Coastal Commission
725 Front Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Re:   City of Santa Cruz, Arana Gulch Master Plan
Hearing date: December, 2011

Dear Commission Members:

The following comments restate and supplement the comments previously expressed in Sierra Club letters to you dated February 22, 2010, and October 6, 2010, when this project was first considered by your Commission. I have also included the language from a resolution passed by the California Conservation Committee on July 13, 2011, at the request of the Sierra Club California Coastal Committee.

Sierra Club opposes the transportation portion of this project, both at the local and statewide level, for the following reasons.

The proposed project encompasses two issues that are entirely independent of each other and, therefore, should be examined independently. One part of the project provides for the protection of endangered plant species in this Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA).  We support this part of the project as it is long overdue. 

But we strongly oppose constructing a paved roadway for bikes through the ESHA.  The real issue is that this project is primarily a transportation project that will bisect the ESHA for the purpose of providing a bike throughway to connect parts of the City that are outside the ESHA.

The fact that the bikeway through the ESHA is a transportation project is confirmed by the plan to fund the project with regional transportation funds.  It should also be clear that these transportation funds could be applied to alternative routes outside the ESHA.  I have included an email from RTC Executive Director, Mr. Dondero, dated April 2, 2010, in response to public inquiry by one of our members.  Construction of the bike throughway and its funding are not in the least dependent on the ESHA and the proposed improvements to its habitat.
The addition of a few interpretive and educational signs to the bikeway is an overt attempt to characterize a transportation project as a resource-dependent development.

Although your staff has indicated that the Commission has approved projects where a transportation project and ESHA protection were comingled, we found none that were comparable to the Arana Gulch case; none were projects that so clearly bisected an ESHA unnecessarily, and none were so clearly separable, i.e. each could be carried out to meet its full objectives independently of the other, as in the Arana Gulch case.

This paved roadway will necessitate substantial land form alterations, construction of switch-backs, construction of major bridges over two creeks, construction in riparian areas and buffer zones, retaining walls, fences, and other appurtenances that will drastically alter the natural habitat of this otherwise undisturbed natural preserve. It will introduce an extensive amount of concrete and steel necessary for its construction (including bridges and retaining walls) in an area that has all the attributes and characteristics of an ESHA and is identified in the City's General Plan as an ESHA.

We support the implementation of the ESHA enhancements mentioned in the revised submission; they can and should be carried out independently of the bike throughway.  However, the transportation project should be examined by itself, and, in light of the restrictions of Sec. 30240 of the Coastal Act, it should be denied.

For all of these reasons, we strongly urge that you sever the bikeway project from the Master Plan, reject the Bikeway Project and approve the rest of the Master Plan. 

Thank you for your consideration of these comments.



Vicki Lee, Chair
Sierra Club California

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