It could be considered a miracle. Hey, wait a minute: it IS a miracle! Just drive along the Pacific coastline, especially along the Central and Northern coasts, from Santa Barbara to the Oregon border. It looks almost as open, rural, beautiful, biologically-rich, and world-class spectacularly scenic as it did three, even four, generations ago.
Especially on the San Mateo coastline, just over the ridge, less than an hour’s drive from more than six million people in the San Francisco Bay Area—mile after mile, beach after beach, cove after cove, ridge after ridge, estuary after estuary, are all free from the cluttered, sterile, suburban sprawl that characterizes so much of populated California.
It IS a miracle, but a miracle that has required dedicated hard work from Coastal Commission officials and environmental leaders and enlightened property owners. The miracle didn’t happen by accident, and without serious, intentional vision and planning. And tough, controversial, politically unpopular decisions have been necessary, year after year, for the past 30 years. All that hard work has paid off to our benefit.
And now we have to devote the same hard work, year after year, to make sure that the same can be said 30 years from now. Again, it won’t happen by accident or without intentional vision and hard, often unpopular, work.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the same forces that turned the Santa Clara Valley, then carpeted by mile after mile of prune, peach, cherry, and apricot orchards into the “Los Angeles of the North” were also at work on the coast. That’s why, in November, 1972, a citizen initiative, Proposition 20, used the slogan, “Local Government has Failed—vote yes to Save the Coast!”
Again, just take San Mateo County as an example. The county’s general plan called for suburban development, just like Daly City and Pacifica, to spread south to the Santa Cruz county line, at Año Nuevo Point. Highway One was to be a six-lane freeway, and there was a fully-approved ladder of four east-west freeways to connect the coast with the Bayside. The next time you take the 280-to-380 interchange to the San Francisco Airport, you’ll see the intentional design to continue that freeway west to the coast. And the Sand Hill-280 interchange? Same thing. State Route 92 to Half Moon Bay? Another freeway. For water, the US Army Corps of Engineers had already received approval to dam Pescadero Creek. School-sites and shopping-center locations--dozens of them—were all carefully located.
Public access? Only for neighbors. Not for strangers—a viewpoint that still prevails in Malibu, where the political oomph of the locals reaches quite easily to the Governor’s office—it doesn’t matter which one.
Some of us had a different vision. And we had to fight the entrenched interests—property owners, developers, local elected officials, and many state legislators—to win. Even then-governor Ronald Reagan opposed us. But the coast is open and available for public access “to and along” the shoreline because two women decided to lead that fight. Claire Dedrick, later Gov. Jerry Brown’s Secretary for Resources, and Janet Adams were the sparkplugs. Without them, Proposition 20 would never been on the ballot. Mel Lane, publisher of Sunset Magazine, and Joe Bodovitz, both of whom had been the leaders of the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), got the new citizen-commission going as a credible, professional, tough regulatory body.
The issue is one of governance: should local elected officials, who serve their local constituencies, be able to make decisions that make so much difference to those of who don’t live along the coast? Or should the “larger-than-local” interests be fully protected? That’s what the Coastal Commission, and its sister agency, the Coastal Conservancy, exist to do: to serve the interests of the larger-than-local constituencies who REALLY care about the beauty of the California coast. Whether we live in Louisville, Kentucky or Hayward, California. And to serve the future generations (of all species) whose future quality-of-life will be enhanced by a fully protected coastline.
So, next time you take a hike to or along the coast, think miracle. And try to think of a way that you can help make this miracle continue to last.
Think of it in this context. When Proposition 20 was passed, there were about 20 million people in California. There are almost 40 million of us here now. And, by 2040, there will be about 60 million Californians. The pressure for coastal development will continue to build, and build, and build. That pressure will continue to be averted from destroying the coast ONLY if you and your friends work, and vote, to do so.
Please help! And, while you’re doing so, embrace and enjoy the miracles—the many, many of them—to be discovered from Gold Bluff Beach, Point Cabrillo Lighthouse and the shores of Tomales Bay to the Coast Dairies Ranch, to Big Sur, to Bolsa Chica lagoon in Orange County, to the Tijuana Estuary at the Mexican border. Each of those places is a treasure, and a victory against all odds. And there are hundreds more victories/treasures to be celebrated in the future. THANK YOU for helping us to celebrate them!
Michael Fischer, former Executive Director of the national Sierra Club, spent a decade of his career as Executive Director of both the North Central region and the statewide Coastal Commission, and more recently served as the executive officer of the Coastal Conservancy. He is now a Senior Fellow at the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.