Loading
WatchSonoma
WatchSonoma Watch

West County Gateway idea riles Occidental residents

By SEAN SCULLY

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

The fate of the aging and underutilized community center in Occidental has spawned a bitter controversy that has split neighbors over questions of how best to use public

Jaques Levy leads a group of Occidental residents critical of the West County Gateway concept. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

Jaques Levy leads a group of Occidental residents critical of the West County Gateway concept. (JOHN BURGESS/ PD)

lands — and about the limits of government power.

Residents of the unincorporated town were surprised to discover earlier this year that their community center appeared to have been designated as the future hub of something called the West County Gateway, an expansive vision for linking more than 11,000 acres of parks and open space, using trails and shuttle buses, from Jenner to Bodega Bay and inland to Occidental and Monte Rio.

The humble community center, a nondescript concrete artifact of early ’70s municipal architecture that is now the regional home for the YMCA, would be reborn as an Adventure Day Lodge, with a visitor center, bike and hiking equipment rentals, food service and public gathering areas.

Local critics learned of the two-year-old concept in January, when it came up as a minor detail in a county Regional Parks presentation to the Board of Supervisors. The news set off an uproar, with some neighbors arguing that unaccountable bureaucrats were making secret decisions about the community’s destiny, and others arguing that risk-averse NIMBYs were threatening progress by refusing to discuss reasonable options for the future.

“It’s caused a little bit of division,” said Pieter Myers, one of the residents supporting the gateway idea. “People I used to be close to, we view each other with a little bit of suspicion because we’re on different sides of the issue.”

An ad-hoc committee calling itself the Town Hall Committee, meanwhile, has been gathering what information it can about the gateway idea and has called a June 4 meeting to discuss the findings. Members say it appears that the Regional Parks agency has invested considerable time and energy on the plan without giving area residents any idea of its scope or implications in terms of new tourists, cramped parking and increased traffic on the narrow local roads.

Many people in Occidental “don’t want a government agency coming in and changing it in such a radical way,” said Jacques Levy spokesman for the group.

But it is not entirely clear if the West County Gateway is even a real plan. Whether the flap is the result of a secret government plan or a comedy of errors depends on who you ask.

“You’ve got to recognize that their concerns are about a concept that is unfunded and unplanned and is not a project at this time,” said Caryl Hart, head of the county’s Regional Parks Department, which owns the community center. “Right now, the only thing we’re involved in is the Occidental Community Center.”

Hart says the West County Gateway was nothing but a concept paper her office dashed off back in 2011 to apply for a small community outreach grant from the National Park Service. Into that paper went an assortment of big ideas about interconnecting the vast patchwork of county, state and federal lands that sprawl across the Sonoma Coast. Much of that land is inaccessible to the public, often simply because it lacks basics such as parking, trailheads, restrooms or even access roads.

Even the name West County Gateway is just a working title, she said.

Some area residents don’t believe a word of it.

Levy points out that the very same details from the grant application, including the name Adventure Day Lodge, were written into the county’s official Capital Improvement Plan as part of the project to rehab the community center. The Board of Supervisors just approved the latest version of that plan on May 21.

And while the county’s website has made no mention of West County Gateway until this week, Hart or her staff has mentioned it in an offhanded way at least twice to the supervisors, most recently in January during a discussion of tourist improvements in Bodega Bay.

These tantalizing traces of evidence suggest to Levy and others that the parks agency has been viewing the West County Gateway as something close to a done deal, all without a single public meeting or any environmental review.

“Our contention is that the county and the community need to get together in a way that doesn’t imply top-down dictation,” he said.

Others in Occidental, however, aren’t so suspicious of the the idea, and welcome some kind of tourist hub.

Heidi McNeal, longtime member of a group called Save the Occidental Community Center, said the gateway plan is far from perfect, but she appreciates the agency’s effort to find some self-sustaining uses for the center. She worries that the sponsors of the June 4 meeting will simply oppose any change and kill off any effort to revitalize the property.

“We all get it: Nobody likes everything … but let’s hear where Parks are now,” she said.

Supporters of the gateway concept have been trying to rally like-minded residents to attend the June 4 meeting to provide a counterweight to what they fear will be a largely hostile agenda.

“We have got to get together and talk about what’s best and stop talking about what’s bad about the gateway,” Myers said.

The dispute appears to have come as a rude shock to Hart, herself an Occidental-area resident who has headed the county parks agency for just over two years. Previously, she was best known as a private activist pushing for land preservation and greater public access to recreational lands.

All she really wanted to do in this case, she said, was help the people of Occidental come up with some interesting way to keep the money-losing community center open. The sharp reaction to the resulting gateway proposal has made her realize that the lofty, high-concept ideas she espoused as a private citizen may not sit comfortably with her new job.

“Now that I am a government official, there are limitations,” she said, with evident frustration. “I have to figure out what that middle ground is between assisting people in raising money and creating a sense that government is acting too quickly and is going to do something without any process.”

Former west county Supervisor Eric Koenigshofer agrees, saying Hart’s relative inexperience as a bureaucrat led to a process that “has gotten out of sync a little bit with the community.”

Koenigshofer, an Occidental lawyer and a board member of the conservation-oriented Bodega Land Trust, has agreed to moderate the June 4 meeting, saying he hopes to keep it reasonable and fair. The sponsors of the meeting are “understandably confused” by what they know of the gateway concept so far.

Hart, meanwhile, said she has heard the concerns from the community and is in the process of removing phrases like “adventure day lodge” from official documents, including eventually from the capital improvement plan.

On Friday, her office posted its first official mention of the gateway concept at parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/About_Us/Project_Details/West_County_Gateway.aspx

She promised to call her own meetings over the summer to give residents a chance to say what they do — and do not — want.

“If they don’t support it, it’s not going to happen,” she said.





8 Responses to “West County Gateway idea riles Occidental residents”

  1. Pieter S Myers says:

    Congratulations, folks, you have taken the bait. This is exactly what the Town Hall Committee wants you to believe. Who are they? They are the Willow Creek Road H.O.A who don’t want you to have access over their (our) road to the 3373 acres of Willow Creek, now a park. They have seized on the fictitious “Gateway Plan” as their red herring to rile people up. Fictitious, since there is no plan, no funding, no intent to impose anything on Occidental against our will. It was a position paper used to apply for a grant to do a study. Don’t believe me, ask Regional Parks.

  2. R.B. Fish says:

    @ James B……thanks for your efforts. It’s so true that most don’t have a clue what is going on and very afraid to say anything. Most to don’t have the funds to contribute even if they did know.

    I think the high end real estate prices may escalte as the rich will have no other place to go to have the quality of life particularly in the north and west county areas. As far as additions to houses it just about political connections.

  3. James Bennett says:

    This and the ‘Core’ project in Sebastopol are incremental segways into the UNs land grab tyranny known locally as One Bay Area/Plan Bay Area.

    Only 4% OF THE ENTIRE BAY AREA is a Priority Development Area (PDA)!
    This along with Priority Conservation Areas (PCA) will work together towards Agenda 21s Wildlands Project.

    Most of these well meaning West County folks are paying to have their way of life decimated, and they don’t even know it.

    This is very serious business folks. I’ve been speaking out about The Agenda on here for years now, but this is getting ready to hit home.

    Even though Ray Charles could tell that the small number of people that showed for their ridiculous ‘visioning meetings’ were in strong objection, they are moving forward with this unbelievable Plan.

    Our last remedy is to file a law suit. Based largely on Constitutional grounds (the 4th,15th Amendments).

    This Plan, along with SB 1, which brings back Tax Increment Financing (TIF) and eminent domain with reduce the Bay Area to a redevelopment area on steroids. now bring in Sonoma Clean Power, which carries eminent domain. Allowing government to identify rural private property as location for wind mills and solar arrays, well you hopefully get the picture.

    It appears we have something in common with the globalists.
    They want the Bay area to set precedent for freedom and property rights everywhere…and so do we.

    Go to:
    TheNorthBayIndependent.org to read about The Plan.
    Go DemocratsAgainstUNAgenda21.com to learn about the suit.
    http://www.democratsagainstunagenda21.com/lawsuit-against-a21.html

    There is nothing we could engage in more important than this.

  4. A. Fein Reeder says:

    “Residents of the unincorporated town were surprised to discover earlier this year that their community center appeared to have been designated as the future hub of something called the West County Gateway, an expansive vision for linking more than 11,000 acres of parks and open space, using trails and shuttle buses, from Jenner to Bodega Bay and inland to Occidental and Monte Rio.”

    “Their” community center? It’s owned and operated(at a loss, so the article states) by Sonoma County Regional Parks. Doesn’t that make it “our” community center?

  5. Beef King says:

    It’s hard to tell what Caryl Hart is really thinking, but it’s not hard to tell that Jacques Levy and associates are local heroes for uncovering another plot of manipulation by local governments.
    County Power Company, County Sponsored Destination Resorts, Luxury Living by retired County Employees at the expense of taxpayers…what next?
    How about ROADS?
    Sonoma County Governments are out of control.
    We need new faces with better ideas to run our local governments.

  6. Steveguy says:

    The West County is finally realizing that they are part of ” The Plans” ?

    Wait until they find out what the other ” Plans” have in mind for them. I would inspect the One Bay Area Plan and see what they have in store for the area. They generally support One Bay Area out there, maybe this can get them to look at the un-accountability that effects us all.

    And I would be highly suspicious of the shuttle bus plan. It reeks of banning cars and letting the roads crumble.

    Then a lie:

    “You’ve got to recognize that their concerns are about a concept that is unfunded and unplanned and is not a project at this time,” said Caryl Hart, head of the county’s Regional Parks Department

    Umm, then why such a Plan ? If it was unplanned, why do you have a Plan ?

    And they want to run your power. Maybe the Progressives can start looking a bit more close at everything these unaccountable bureaucrats have up their sleeve.

    But now they do it in secret, your input will mean nothing once they decide on ” The Plan”. Then they have phony ‘meetings’ to get everyone to agree with them, and if you disagree they ignore you. Or called names.

    Wait until they ban propane ! That will get their attention, as that is in ‘ The Plan’…

  7. GAJ says:

    We can’t afford to maintain the Parks we have which, obviously, means this plan will definitely go through in “down is up” Sonoma County/California.

  8. James Bennett says:

    You don’t want unaccountable bureaucrats dictating, making radical changes, making decisions in private?

    What’s the matter with you NINBYs?

    They haven’t got the memo that their cherished rural private way of life isn’t in The Plan.

    Guess some of us that are awake will have to show up at their ‘visioning’ meeting.