www.montereycountyweekly.com april 4-10, 2024 MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY 15 Sunday night, March 31, was quiet in Big Sur. A slip-out on Highway 1 at Rocky Creek Bridge had closed the rural community’s access to the Monterey Peninsula the day before. By Sunday morning, Caltrans engineers determined it was safe to allow convoys to come and go. That meant stranded tourists had a way to get home, no rescue helicopters required. It meant Big Sur residents could get to town to get groceries and fuel, to drop off trash, see a doctor. It also meant people on the outside world couldn’t get in— proof of residency is required to enter the closed area. And at the Big Sur Taphouse, locals were celebrating that. “Yeah, it’s just us, all the visitors are gone! Then comes a moment of being somber—wait, no visitors, no work,” says Patte Kronlund, recounting the gathering secondhand. “It’s a balance. We need both.” Kronlund is executive director of the Community Association of Big Sur, one of many local organizations that are involved not just in immediate disaster response but in longer-term planning. How to balance the region’s dependence on tourism with its very real impacts is a longstanding challenge. And ongoing updates to the Big Sur Coast Land Use Plan provide a venue for CABS and others to weigh in on that balance. The amendment process has been underway for 10 years, now under the purview of County planning commissioners Martha Diehl and Kate Daniels (also supervisor-elect) to update a plan first adopted in 1986. “It’s a document that has lived the test of time, but things have changed,” Kronlund says. “Glamping, yurts, short-term rentals, cell phones.” To some residents, those newfangled things threaten Big Sur’s very existence. On March 25, an attorney representing the group Keep Big Sur Wild sent a letter to the Monterey County Planning Commission asking for a moratorium on new visitor-serving units. Keep Big Sur Wild is just one entity in a long list to submit comments lately—some want bans on short-term rentals, others weighed in against prescribed burns. (Once the Planning Commission is ready to recommend a plan, it will go to the Board of Supervisors for adoption, then the California Coastal Commission.) But Keep Big Sur Wild also sent out a press release announcing, “Area residents ask Planning Commission to protect treasured international destination from irreversible impacts.” Note the unintended irony: It is a “treasured international destination” only because international visitors can visit, and there are accommodations to serve them. Of course there is tension between wanting a place to be pristine—or, more often, the way it was when you first arrived there—and modern amenities. For instance: the existence of Highway 1, a remarkable feat of engineering (and an extraordinary cost to all of us taxpayers to maintain—not as a private driveway, but for public access). “The existence of the Big Sur community, with very few exceptions, is entirely reliant on visitation by the public,” says Kirk Gafill, president of the Big Sur Chamber of Commerce. The highway closure shows the duality in relief. There is peace, but no work. The draft Land Use Plan aims to do some big things. Specifically, it “hopes to achieve a balance between ensuring the survivability of the Big Sur community and its neighborhoods and the Coastal Act’s emphasis on other public benefits.” Even that premise has drawn criticism. One resident wrote on Feb. 14: “We survive well on our own as we always have, please redact this fearbased rhetoric.” The draft plan amendments are intended to help Big Sur survive— to preserve the relative peace and wildness, and also the ability of regular people to work and commute and live there, while addressing specific modern issues like drones (landings prohibited), public restrooms (placements recommended) and emergency helicopter guidelines (a permanent helicopter pad is prohibited, to protect wildlife and the region’s “wild character”). But the plan itself exists just on paper. The lived experience, the “survivability” of a community, comes only from the people who live and work there. Shunning visitors is not a productive or realistic place to start, at least not since Highway 1 opened in 1937. Sara Rubin is the Weekly’s editor. Reach her at sara@mcweekly.com. Highway 1, Revisited Can Big Sur strike a delicate balance between tourism and locals? Sara Rubin Free Reign…Squid attends far more public meetings than most landlubbing humans, and one thing Squid’s learned over the years is to always pay attention to the consent agenda. Public agencies in California must post an agenda for a meeting 72 hours in advance, which includes everything the agency’s board will discuss and vote on. At the top is the consent agenda, where all the items—could be one, could be 30—are passed by a single vote in one fell swoop with no discussion (unless somebody requests a discussion). The idea is efficiency for approving items deemed to be routine and non-controversial. But sometimes things on the consent agenda are not routine. For example, Squid is curious to see what happens when the Seaside City Council considers amending a contract for Don Freeman, the former city attorney, in his capacity as a special counsel for the city. The city hired Freeman in June 2022 as a special counsel for services that would be capped at $24,000, and on Thursday, April 4, City Council is set to consider a proposed amendment to that contract (on the consent agenda) to remove that cap. Freeman is billing the city at a rate of $375 an hour, which adds up quick. Close to two years in (and an unknown number of billable hours, though Squid’s colleague is asking for invoices) there are a flurry of closed-session special meetings to talk about both litigation and personnel matters. Squid’s cephalopod-sense is tingling indeed. Happening in Soledad…They say it takes a tough skin to be in politics, which makes Squid think it isn’t for cephalopods. Maybe the same goes for members of Soledad City Council, where Squid has watched the political factions change faster than a cephalopod’s skin can change color. The old 3-2 was replaced with a new 3-2 dynamic, and then there was a second resignation leaving council in a 3-1 configuration. Councilmember Maria Corralejo may feel lonely without her former allies, Alejandro Chavez and Ben Jimenez Jr., who have both recently resigned (Chavez because he moved, Jimenez to spend more time with his family). But not as lonely as the council chambers in Soledad City Hall felt on Wednesday, March 20. They had to cancel the meeting due to a lack of a quorum, with Corralejo and Jimenez (who hadn’t yet resigned) both absent. Fernando Ansaldo won a seat on council in the March 5 primary election to replace Chavez, but he wasn’t scheduled to be sworn in until April 3 (after the Weekly’s print deadline). The big question for Squid was whether enough current councilmembers—there are only three, Corralejo plus Ansaldo supporters Fernando Cabrera and Mayor Anna Velazquez— will show up to oversee his swearing-in. the local spin SQUID FRY THE MISSION OF MONTEREY COUNTY WEEKLY IS TO INSPIRE INDEPENDENT THINKING AND CONSCIOUS ACTION, ETC. “We survive well on our own as we always have.” Send Squid a tip: squid@mcweekly.com