The vast majority of a standing-room-only crowd in Cambria joined a contingent of national and state dignitaries Friday afternoon in voicing support for adding the Piedras Blancas Light Station and five other properties to the California Coastal National Monument.
A community meeting at the Veterans Memorial Building focused on a proposed expansion that includes coastal resources from Humboldt County to Orange County, including the Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area.
Before the meeting, officials — including Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara; Neil Kornze, director of the U.S. Bureau of Land Management; and John Laird, secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency — toured the light station north of San Simeon.
Those officials were unanimous in their support of the idea.
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“National monuments and names — the names of things — matter,” said Nick Franco, director of the San Luis Obispo County Parks and Recreation Department, near the outset of the about-three-hour hearing at the veterans hall. “It’s a statement of importance ... and this is certainly an area worthy of that designation.”
The meeting, moderated by county Supervisor Bruce Gibson, drew a parade of 78 residents to the microphone to speak on the proposal, which calls on President Barack Obama to approve the expansion using his authority under the Antiquities Act.
An effort to expand the monument in Congress stalled before proponents shifted their hopes to Obama. U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-California, has sent a letter to the president asking for him to approve the monument. He would have to act before the end of his term in office; a new president will be inaugurated Jan. 20.
“Our preference is always to go through a legislative process,” Kornze told the audience, “but the Congress sometimes gets locked up, and the president has the authority to use that power through the executive process.”
In addition to Piedras Blancas, other proposed monument expansion areas include Lighthouse Ranch; Trinidad Head and the Lost Coast Headlands in Humboldt County; a collection of offshore rocks and islands in Orange County; and the Cotoni-Coast Dairies in Santa Cruz County. The existing monument, designated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, covers 20,000 rocks and islands over a 1,100-mile-long expanse, Kornze said, making it the largest conservation unit in the country.
Of the people who spoke, 62 — many of them wearing large, round “YES” stickers — came out in favor of expanding the monument. Eleven were opposed, and five others expressed concerns without taking a definitive position.
It’s not just protecting a place where we live, it’s protecting the place where we’re from. It’s not just a part of our lives, it’s a part of our hearts.
Mona Olivas Tucker, Northern Chumash tribal chair
Many of the supporters turned out to represent environmental and Native American groups.
“It seems like the oversight would be simplified” under monument status, said Mona Olivas Tucker, tribal chair of the Northern Chumash. “It’s not quite as complicated a maze of government entities.
“It’s not just protecting a place where we live, it’s protecting the place where we’re from. It’s not just a part of our lives, it’s a part of our hearts.”
Some speakers echoed Capps, who said the designation would allow “the public to gain greater access to the coast and the monument, while preserving sites of historical and ecological importance.”
But increased public access wasn’t an advantage in the eyes of some critics, many who traveled south from Santa Cruz County to express concerns about the proposed Cotoni-Coast Dairies expansion. Several said they were worried the designation could harm the environment by attracting thousands of additional tourists.
Most San Luis Obispo County residents spoke in favor of the monument, including former county Supervisor Shirley Bianchi of Cambria; attorney Margaret “P.J.” Webb of Cambria, chairwoman of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council; and Mike Hanchett, owner of Cavalier Inn Inc. and Cavalier Oceanfront Resort and Restaurant in San Simeon.
Donovan Marley, a Friends of the Elephant Seal volunteer guide who serves as initiative director of the Piedras Blancas monument effort, referred to “an enormous amount of support that includes all of the government entities in San Luis Obispo County that are involved.”
He cited 60 letters of resolution from various public and private organizations, along with 1,500 petitions.
However, Kathy Dowding of Cambria voiced opposition to the monument, quoting fellow Cambria resident Carole Adams in her remarks.
“The programs and protection are already in place,” Dowding said. “Changing the name of what already is a national treasure is just that — a name change.”