As a person who cares about preserving the rural areas of our county, I know the challenges residents encounter far from urban centers, public services, and major highways. The natural beauty of these very special coastal hills, one of the last truly rural areas in Sonoma County, rewards those who live and visit many times over for their trouble.
Our Board of Supervisors and planning department have allowed one landowner, the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center (TMNC), operator of Ratna Ling Retreat, special privileges to capitalize on these natural resources. Granted a use permit for a religious retreat and a small monastic printing press in 2004, TNMC brazenly violated it by moving a large industrial printing factory from Berkeley to the hills above Salt Point State Park. Industrial printing is now the primary land use there by any measure. For their convenience, they truck urban risks to a forested, fire-danger zone.
Among the many problems with this violation of our General Plan and RRD zoning are evident dangers to public safety. This is a wildland, extreme fire-danger zone, protected by an all-volunteer fire department, currently understaffed and overburdened. Many of us remember that some residents lost property or their homes in the devastation of the 1978 Creighton Ridge Fire. Your recent decision may allow Ratna Ling Retreat to run a factory in excess of 60,000 square feet that has the following:
- combustible paper with glues, dyes, etc. loaded to the rafters in 39,000 square-foot warehouses
- these huge warehouses are fabric tents that are exempted by PRMD from current fire code standards
- use of hazardous chemicals in the printing factory, some of which cannot be extinguished with water
- large amounts of flammable materials like diesel fuel and propane (20,000 gallons) stored on site
- accessed by a 10-foot wide roadway that cannot accommodate both emergency vehicles and evacuees
Mitigations for this fire danger suggested thus far will not protect this facility if it is in the path of a wildfire. Leaving this factory in the middle of our coastal forest is like leaving a cache of explosives there.
Please support the legal challenge of this dangerous precedent by visiting www.sonomacoastalhillsruralpreservation.org.
John Q. Citizen