As President Obama nears the end of his term, land conservationists are lining up with proposals to have their piece of country designated a national monument. It’s something the President can do by Executive Order. In California four pieces of land have been proposed for monument status, Berryessa-Snow Mountain, Mojave Trails, Sand to Snow and one along the Santa Cruz coast by Davenport called Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument.
It’s there where residents are divided. Is this an opportunity that can’t be passed up? Or one being rushed by the 2016 deadline?
Davenport is about ten minute drive north of Santa Cruz along Highway 1. A handful of businesses line the highway. Behind them are the homes for some of Davenport’s 700 residents.
These days it’s a bedroom community and tourist destination for its secluded beach. But throughout Davenport’s history a variety of industries have driven its identity: the shuttered cement plant, logging and even whaling, back in the day.
And then there are the rolling hills known as Coast Dairies.
“Well, there was dairy here around the turn of the century. You can see some of the historic buildings just over that knoll. There’s a cheese making building or something like that,” says Steve Reed, Campaign Manager for the proposed Santa Cruz Redwoods National Monument.
His job is partly funded by the non-profit Sempervirens Fund, which is leading the push for monument status.
The piece of land is just over 5,800 acres. It lies east of Highway 1 and surrounds the community of Davenport to the north and south and stretches inland toward Bonny Doon.
“So what you see here is rolling grasslands and prairies leading up to foothills that lead up to deep canyons and ravines leading to a redwood ridgetop,” says Reed.
The land was once eyed by developers for housing, but eventually ended up in the hands of the Trust for Public Land, which put a number of deed restrictions on the property before transferring it to the federal Bureau of Land Management.
“There’s a series of protections and in essence, the property has been designated by virtue of deed restrictions as a day use, publicly accessible piece of property,” says Reed.
Right now, this property is open to the public at least once of month for guided tours. The BLM has plans to create day use hiking trails, but things are moving slowly, in part, because of funding.
That’s where Reed says becoming a National Monument will make a difference. The status means access to a different pool of money for National Conservation Lands, which could mean more funds for the BLM to manage this property.
Reed says now is the time to push for this monument. That or wait another eight or nine years. “These monuments generally only get designated toward the tail end, I mean tail end of a Presidential Administration,” says Reed.
“This land should not be directed by someone’s political term,” says Rachael Spencer of the Davenport /North Coast Association.
The elected group of nine DNCA board members serves as a conduit between the community and the agencies that support it like the sanitation district and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office.
The DNCA’s concerns about the potential monument come down to this: trash, trauma and traffic.
“There is no money coming from the federal government for the local resources. All of the burden of this new monument is going to fall on the county, and the county doesn’t have the money. We don’t have a Sheriff up here, we have no trash collection in the north part of the county, so all these resources are going to have to be paid for somehow,” says Spencer.
It’s a problem they know all too well. Davenport’s beach is somewhat of an orphan.
“The Davenport Beach is not under anyone’s jurisdiction. No agency takes claim for it, not the county nor the state. And the locals have to pick up the beach, and it is a mess during the summer time,” says Noel Garin Bock of the DNCA.
Davenport is a hotspot for visitors from Santa Cruz and Silicon Valley. “I really don’t leave my house on Saturday and Sunday because it’s so congested in that little teeny strip of Davenport,” says Garin Bock.
They feel a monument designation will only compound the problem. They point to the relatively new Fort Ord National Monument down the coast, which saw its visitor numbers jump from an estimated 250,000 year to 400,000 in the few years after it earned monument status.
“We can’t say that we are going to go from zero to 400,000 here, but we do know that our visitors will increase significantly,” says Garin Bock.
With all their concerns, they’re not against the monument, they just want to see a comprehensive management plan first. They don’t understand the rush considering the land is already well protected.
But Helmut Fritz takes a different approach to the timeline. He’s the owner of the Davenport Roadhouse Restaurant and Inn, one of the local businesses on Highway 1.
“Time pressure is always a good thing because then things are being moved forward. If we say ‘oh let’s do it over the next five years or ten years’, it probably won’t even happen,” says Fritz.
He bought the Roadhouse three years ago after a career in the software industry. He says of course the monument would be good for business.
“On weekends we actually don’t need, can’t handle more business. So it will probably increase the traffic weekdays because there will be more people that stay for longer because there’s more activities. There’s more opportunities to visit the park and basically extended the stay, so it’s not going to be just the weekend trip,” says Fritz.
And he thinks the ocean and land that attracted him here should be shared. “I’ve lived in many places around the world, and I realized there’s no paradise, but this comes really close,” says Fritz.
The monument has gained a lot of support from conservation and community groups. The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors recently give its backing, but attached a number of conditions that addressed many of the concerns of Davenport residents.