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Old Baldy, Canada | photo by Cameron Schaus
Conservation Issues of the Ventana Chapter | monterey county

What your local Sierra Club has been doing

February 2011

Besides leading over 200 hikes a year, the Club’s most visible local activity, and publishing an award winning newsletter, your local Chapter and Group of the Sierra Club have been busy preserving clean water, protecting our forests, advocating for sustainable transportation choices, fighting for sensible land use, and more. Our volunteers write letters, read Environmental Impact Reports, and testify before public bodies such as Planning Commissions and Boards of Supervisors.

Many thanks are due to the numerous volunteers that make all this happen. If you want to get more involved in these activities contact committee chairs or Executive Committee members listed in the directory here.

Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties

Pajaro River Watershed

The Pajaro River Watershed Committee has been working to restore and protect this valuable natural resource for almost a decade. Lois Robin’s 2006 video, Stuck in the Mud: The Pajaro River in Peril, described the sediment problems of the Pajaro River, which earned a place on America’s Most Endangered Rivers list. In a victory for the environment, this year Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties will excavate sediment from the benches in three places along the lower River, allowing it to regain its floodplain in places and meander once again. Hydrologists funded by the Club recommended this work.

The Club is still urging the Army Corps of Engineers to develop an evaluation of the way the upstream flows of the River affect downstream flows. If various upstream areas can be restored and the River is allowed to assume a more natural course, then many benefits to the downstream river may accrue including reduced flood flow, additional water supply, increased habitat and recreational use, enhanced parks, biking and walking trails, and a more natural and scenic river corridor. The technical expertise of committee members Kenn Reiller and Jim Van Houten have been indispensible in the process.

Committee members attend meetings of the 24 agencies that have a say in the management of the River, write letters to those in authority, conduct outreach education, and work with other organizations such as Action Pajaro Valley and the Pajaro River Watershed Council. The Committee obtained grant funding to hire experts to produce a Community Engagement Plan for the River which was presented to the City of Watsonville and eventually included in the City’s recent update of their trails master plan.

Santa Cruz County

Water Resources

The Club worked very hard to decrease the heavy sediment load carried by the San Lorenzo River, both a local source of drinking water and wildlife habitat. Currently we are preparing comments for the San Lorenzo River sediment water pollution control plan. Due to the efforts of the late Al Haynes, the San Lorenzo has been listed as “impaired” under the Clean Water Act for years.

Mike Guth and others prepared extensive comments on the Santa Cruz County Storm Water Management Plan to reduce pollution discharges from developed lands in the County. The Plan, however, is only the first step and the Club continues its efforts to get the County to implement measures which carry out the promises of the plan.

Aldo Giacchino look the lead in submitting both written and oral comments on behalf of the Club to the Santa Cruz City Council and other government bodies regarding the City’s water supply and extension of water services to the UCSC upper campus. The need to use water wisely and link development to water supply so there will be enough for both humans and wildlife is one of the biggest challenges our region faces. We continue to monitor the City of Santa Cruz/Soquel Creek Water District joint plans to build a sea water desalination plant. This plant would be a major energy user and could undermine local attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. On the other hand, access to desalinated sea water could reduce water demands on local rivers and streams and benefit salmon and steelhead.


The Sierra Club wrote letters and testified in support of the Regional Transportation Commission’s purchase of the Union Pacific Rail Line—a goal that was finally achieved a few weeks ago. Besides enabling train travel, purchase of the railroad right of way can make possible the Club goal of a bicycle and pedestrian trail along much of the corridor. Additionally, the Sierra Club opposed the widening of Highway 1 and supported the Campaign for Sensible Transportation’s lawsuit against Caltrans’ incremental widening of the highway.

Forest Policy and Endangered Species

Local forestry activists in the Santa Cruz Mountains are faced with a continuous stream of new Timber Harvest Plans which they review and comment on. Many of these plans propose logging on steep, unstable terrain, include driving logging trucks over failing roads which cause sediment to collapse into creeks, and drive through rather than bridge creeks. Forestry consultant Jodi Frediani and other Sierra Club members have attended an astonishing number of pre-harvest inspections and supported efforts by the CA Department of Fish and Game and Santa Cruz County to limit damage to wildlife, especially to salmon habitat.

In a victory to preserve old growth, Jodi Frediani spearheaded collaboration to stop the logging of the Lagomarsino redwoods in San Mateo County, working with the Center for Biological Diversity, Committee for Green Foothills, and Midpeninsula Open Space District backing the effort of the California Department of Fish and Game. This story had a happy ending with the purchase of the property by Sempervirens Fund. Yes, old-growth redwood forest is still commercially logged, contrary to industry-generated confusion over this issue.

Kevin Collins and others wrote extensive comments on behalf of the Club on the Coho Salmon Recovery Plan from the National Marine Fisheries Service. Unfortunately the federal government has waited too long to finally discuss coho recovery under the Endangered Species Act, and it may be too late for these amazing fish.

In collaboration with the California Native Plant Society and the Center for Biological Diversity, the Club worked to protect the endangered Santa Cruz sunflower/tarplant and rare coastal prairie habitat in Arana Gulch.

Santa Cruz Sierra Club activists are among the few private citizens from the entire state who regularly attend Board of Forestry hearings and committee meetings.

Jodi Frediani testified before the California Air Resources Board along with a state-wide coalition of groups including Sierra Club CA and Center for Biological Diversity in an attempt to stop new carbon sequestration rules which included clear cutting as eligible for carbon credits. Unfortunately, this preposterous insult to the earth was just approved.

A revision of Fight Back! Forest Defenders Handbook, originally prepared for the Santa Cruz Group, was completed and posted online. The updated handbook describes in detail how the public can participate in timber harvest review. The Club also assisted neighbors throughout Santa Cruz County who were concerned by timber harvest proposals that threatened their access roads or watersheds resulting in the ultimate preservation of one property that was slated to be logged.

Much hard work on the part of the local Group culminated in the County’s finally moderating its policy of removing large wood from streams. Such wood provides critical habitat for steelhead and salmon. The new policy now allows removal of large wood only if a threat to homes is immanent.

Land Use

Kevin Collins and Aldo Giacchino represented the Club in successfully stopping an attempt by the County Planning Department to weaken basic zoning standards in rural areas of the County. Working with the Rural Bonny Doon Association and the San Lorenzo Valley Water District, the Sierra Club convinced the County Board of Supervisors not to approve weaker zoning site standards outside the Urban Services Line. This issue, however, is not settled and will require continuing efforts.

The Club is also working to strengthen enforcement of County environmental codes to protect endangered species which are severely harmed by development and tree and vegetation removal near streams.

In Watsonville, Sierra Club supported the successful court case that stopped annexation by the City of lands essential to the safety of the Watsonville Airport. The organizations involved in the case were the Watsonville Pilots Association, Friends of Buena Vista, and Sierra Club, along with the CA Division of Aeronautics and CA Pilots Association. The Club was especially concerned about preservation of the rare plants and open space in the area.

Monterey County

The Habitat Conservation Fund in Marina

This fund, the result of a settlement from the 1980s, now has $280,000. Over the last two years, Steve Zmak as Marina Conservation Chair met with other nonprofits to arrange grants for green projects helping coastal habitat. In all, we earmarked about $130,000 of this fund for coastal restoration projects. This perpetual fund raises money every day from a hotel tax in Marina’s Coastal Zone, so it continues to grow.

Endangered Species Act lawsuit

For years, Sierra Club lawyer Larry Silver, Rita Dalessio, and a local hydrologist have been pressuring the State Water Resources Control Board to enforce a cease-and-desist order issued in 1995 known as SB9510 to reduce overdrafting of the Carmel River. The courts have now upheld this decision and the moratorium on new hook-ups is in place. We are monitoring this carefully and working with other groups to help restore steelhead populations and protect habitat for other ESA species such as California Red-Legged Frog.

General Plan 5

Julie Engell, Dale Agron, and other Chapter members continued to provide input on the 2010 Monterey County
General Plan. The Chapter expressed strong opposition to a new policy which will permit cultivation of steep slopes, a change that will result in serious impacts to wildlife habitat, water supply, and water quality. The Club continued its opposition to the Plan’s Agriculture Winery Corridor, which will allow winery development without adequate environmental review; we raised serious concerns about the adequacy of water supply to support the level of growth authorized by the new General Plan; and we pointed out the folly of the General Plan’s location of new development in flood plains.

After the 2010 General Plan was adopted by the Monterey County Board of Supervisors last October, three environmental organizations with which the Chapter has collaborated filed CEQA lawsuits against the plan. The Chapter supports these lawsuits.

Monterey Co Community Wildfire Protection Plan

Julie Engell and Rita Dalessio represented the Chapter during the development of the MCCWPP. The draft plan
designated more than half of Monterey County land as fire prone and called for significant vegetation clearing in unique, valuable, and sensitive habitats. Plan proponents also advocated wholesale abandonment or circumvention of most environmental laws and regulations. Working with other conservation organizations we provided solid scientific comments and recommendations to improve the plan. The Chapter hired attorney Tom Lippe to provide California Environmental Quality Act guidance and forest ecologist Scott Stephens and forestry consultant Jodi Frediani to describe best forest fire reduction practices. Through our combined efforts, the MCCWPP signed in December by the Supervisors was greatly improved.

Regional Water Project

Julie Engell attended workshops and hearings, including the Public Utility Commission hearings, on the Regional Water Project, a desalination project which is supposed to replace water currently being illegally pumped from the Carmel River watershed.

Sierra Club will continue monitoring this process to see that it provides additional water in the most environmentally safe methods possible.

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