.Bodega Blues

Bodega Blues

By Bruce Robinson

A FEW COWS graze languidly on the lush grasses above Highway 1 while the light onshore breeze is colored by the briny scent of fish being smoked in a nearby roadside shack. Yet this bucolic hillside overlooking Bodega Bay is at the center of a heated battle that has lasted more than 10 years.

Even though the long-contested Harbor View subdivision finally won approval from county officials a year and a half ago, the debate isn’t over yet.

“I don’t know why they approved it. I sure wouldn’t have,” snorts Don Nielsen, a vocal member of Bodega Bay Concerned Citizens, a citizens’ group that has consistently fought the development. ‘We’re not anti-growth per se, but we want rational planned growth that is consistent with our infrastructure here, not [a project] that is going to dump 84 upscale houses in the middle of our town with a little road right in the busiest part of the community.”

As approved in December 1994 by county supervisors, the Harbor View project will feature 70 luxury homes and 14 affordable units on 27 acres of sloping pastureland that now separate the Inn at the Tides from the “old town,” where most longtime residents of the fishing village live. The 10 apartments and four townhouses are to be developed in cooperation with the Santa Rosa­based Burbank Housing Corp.

In addition, two lots have been set aside for environmental preservation: a 2.8-acre parcel, just above the highway, that houses a natural wetland; and a 1.3-acre lot, halfway up the hillside, that serves as a groundwater recharge for the wetlands. Another 4.2 acres, adjacent to the Inn at the Tides and originally proposed as a commercial site, are now identified only as a remainder parcel whose future use is unspecified.

Citing traffic, water, visual impacts, questions about soil stability on-site, and other issues, BBCC has launched a petition drive to try and interest the county’s Open Space Commission in acquiring the Harbor View property. In the few weeks since that effort began, the group has collected hundreds of signatures from residents and visitors.

But the grassroots campaign emphatically does not have the backing of Supervisor Ernie Carpenter, who says, “It’s not the purpose of the Open Space District to go into areas that are sewered and watered and to buy up subdivisions that have been approved.”

Carpenter argues that when he has mentioned the petition drive to his colleagues on the board, “jaws drop. It’s incredible that anyone would even ask,” he says.

The odds of an eventual purchase by the county, he says, are “one in 10 million. Heck, make that one in 20 million.”

IN THE 1980 COASTAL PLAN, the Harbor View property was identified as a future housing site with densities up to 10 houses per acre, so this less-intensive development shouldn’t upset anyone, contends influential Bodega Bay realtor Hazel Mitchell. “It’s an ideal place because it’s right in the center of town, which is the sensible [place to locate] so there would be no strip development,” she says, noting that the parcel is surrounded by lands already served by the town’s sewer and water systems.

Opponents, however, are skeptical about the ability of those systems to support 84 additional families, as well as the rest of the community. “Our infrastructure can’t handle it. There’s only so much water out here,” objects BBCC activist Bev Burton. “This isn’t the only project in town,” she continues. “There are a hundred-some-odd lots still to build on at Bodega Harbor, and there are other projects around town.

“We’re looking at a lot more homes coming in.”

With each new home comes additional traffic on two-lane Highway 1, a thoroughfare so narrow in places that there is barely room for a pedestrian to squeeze along the shoulder. The bumper-to-bumper creep through town on summer weekends is a fact of life and getting worse at other times, too. Traffic congestion is a nuisance to out-of-towners, a major inconvenience to residents, and a potentially fatal problem for the local fire department. County supes once considered requiring a traffic bypass around the center of Bodega Bay before development of Harbor View. An additional 65 units planned for a second portion of the property remain in limbo on that basis.

“We need a bypass so bad we can taste it, but nobody will do anything about it,” fumes Nielsen. “Maybe if we had a bypass and eliminated the traffic, it wouldn’t hurt so much if this stuff did get built. But it would still be ugly.”

Those 84 new families will have a big effect on other residents, especially those with children. The Shoreline Unified School District has an agreement with the developers to pay $100,000 in development fees over the first seven years of construction to help defray the cost of school improvements, says Superintendent Roberto Salinas. The lion’s share of those funds would most likely be used to construct a new classroom building at Bodega Bay School near the northeast corner of the Harbor View property.

But there is widespread doubt that the project will heavily impact the school because the price of the new homes–estimated at between $300,000 and $500,000 and up–is less likely to be within the means of families with young children. “If the town has any need, it’s really in the middle- to low-income range,” says Shoreline school board trustee Rich McCudden, echoing a point made by several members of Bodega Bay Concerned Citizens.

“The final development is not as attractive as it could have been,” says McCudden. “Bodega Harbor is already here, and that has a lot of amenities that [Harbor View] doesn’t, from the golf course to beach access. The town has a screaming need for some housing, but not in the $300,000 bracket.”

From the June 20-26, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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