Third Hearing Date Set: April 8, 2014
For Immediate Release
Subject New Hearing Date for Appeal of Printing Factory Expansion in Coastal Hills
April 8, 2014, 2 p.m. Sonoma County Board of Supervisors
Contact: Michael Singer, 707.847.3368; Sonoma Coastal Hills Rural Preservation
After waiting two years for an appeal hearing date, residents in northwestern Sonoma County are gearing up once again to challenge a religious retreat that is running a commercial printing operation in the middle of a coastal forest. The Cazadero hills once featured in idyllic Ansel Adams photographs now host a major commercial printing factory for Dharma Press, previously located for 37 years in a manufacturing zone in Berkeley.
Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management officials originally allowed a small printing operation in a new retreat, Ratna Ling, in 2004—not to exceed one press, 27 workers, and 18,750 square feet—as an “ancillary,” or secondary retreat function. The property is designated in the General Plan as Resource and Rural Development. Without permits or county oversight, by 2007 Dharma Publishing had relocated its entire manufacturing plant and sales distribution operations from Berkeley to the retreat in violation of its 2004 permit. Rather than being minutes from suppliers and the Port of Oakland, Dharma Press now trucks all materials and labor to the remote site and trucks all products back again to the Bay Area for shipping.
The owners of Ratna Ling applied in 2008 for approval to expand its printing operations to over 60,000 square feet, six presses running six days a week, non-fire code conforming tent storage for hundreds of thousands of books and commercial inventory items, and housing for 93 workers in the middle of a coastal forest (Sonoma County Use Permit PLP08-0021). The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments recommended this expansion in 2012 without ever acknowledging years of blatant violations of its 2004 permit.
A group called Sonoma Coastal Hills Rural Preservation (CHRP) appealed that recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Two prior hearing dates were cancelled by the owners of Dharma Press while they apparently prepared a new supplemental Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND), the original of which was grossly flawed in its 2004 and 2008 applications. That new MND, inches thick, was just received by CHRP and is being reviewed.
“The Board of Zoning Adjustment was not informed by PRMD staff at the 2012 hearing of the numerous use permit violations committed by the applicant when they approved the expansion. It is not clear if the expansion would have been approved had the BZA been informed of the violations.” said Michael “Zippy” Singer, a member of the CHRP steering committee that has fought the industrial printing press since 2006.
It has been six years since the last use-permit application was filed and subsequently appealed. Meanwhile Ratna Ling Retreat and Dharma Press continue to violate their 2004 permit with impunity, operating a multi-million dollar commercial industry from the retreat. CHRP summarizes its position and provides photo documentation on its website: sonomacoastalhillsruralpreservation.org.