Esalen Institute in Big Sur laying off employees as Hwy. 1 closure drags on

Slates Hot Springs at Esalen is seen in this June 2015 photo.
Slates Hot Springs at Esalen is seen in this June 2015 photo.

Layoffs are coming to Esalen Institute in Big Sur, a response to the continued closure of Highway 1, which has isolated the retreat since major storms washed out sections of the highway early this year.

Calling the situation “unprecedented in our history,” Esalen Executive Director Ben Tauber wrote in a message on Esalen’s Facebook page that the institute was making two “critical announcements” based on new information Tauber had received that “Highway 1 south will not be open to the public in early June as we had hoped. This means there is still no easy access to our property, and we remain largely isolated.”

As a result, he wrote, the institute has set a target date for reopening of July 28.

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The second consequence of the closure, he wrote, was that Esalen would be doing a round of staff layoffs described as “permanent and temporary.”

“As those impacted begin to transition, we are taking steps to support them as fully as we are able under these circumstances,” Tauber wrote. “I have put a team in place to help plan what financial, transport, housing, and new employment support we can offer for our impacted community members.”

A call Friday morning to Tauber’s extension at Esalen’s administrative offices seeking more information on the layoffs was not immediately returned.

Esalen is a major employer in the Big Sur area. A nonprofit retreat center, it offers workshops that focus on such topics as yoga, psychology, massage, meditation, spirituality and organic food.

The institute, which has been around for more than a half-century, undertook a $20.5 million upgrade and remodeling project that included a $7 million lodge renovation last year, according to the Monterey Herald.

The institute, founded in 1962, provides humanistic alternative education workshops and has attracted historic figures such as Aldous Huxley, Ken Kesey, Joan Baez and Ansel Adams.

A helicopter evacuated 70 people from Esalen in late February after the failure of Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge and mudslides on Highway 1 isolated the community.

Stephen H. Provost: 805-927-8896, @sproauthor

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