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BOULDER CREEK — The CZU Lightning Complex fires hit the “reset” button on Big Basin Redwoods State Park in August 2020, offering park leaders and the public a unique opportunity to reimagine how the 120-year-old attraction should look and feel to visitors.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters in 2017.
(Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel file) 

After an extensive public outreach effort, one major envisioned change moves the main access point — the visitor’s center and park headquarters — out of the old-growth redwood forest and nearly 3 miles down the road, to a park-owned property known as Saddle Mountain.

The long-term relocation proposal, laid out in the “Reimagining Big Basin Vision Summary” that was released at the end of May, echoes a plan codified some nine years earlier. The new vision document describes Saddle Mountain as a site that could be used as Big Basin’s primary entrance, hosting visitor parking, camping check-ins, a camp store, shuttle pick-up and limited park operations and staff housing.

RELATED: Big Basin Redwoods State Park to reopen July 22 for first time since massive fire

“A lot of this is around how to make Big Basin resilient in the face of what we know is a changing climate, how to make it accessible to the most people, how to make it inclusive,” said State Parks Santa Cruz District Superintendent Chris Spohrer. “The document that’s online reflects these major themes, the most important one being that the protection of the sensitive old-growth forest is really at the heart of what people really want to see in a future park — it’s why the park was created.”

State Parks officials lead a tour of Big Basin Redwoods State Park to members of the media in May as they announced future plans for the park. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel) 

The park entrance plan differs from this summer’s limited reopening plan that will allow visitors with parking permits to directly access the park at its original entrance, beginning July 22.

State Parks first acquired Saddle Mountain from the Los Altos-based environmental group Sempervirens Fund in 2007. The 17.5-acre site at Big Basin’s southern boundary on the corner of Big Basin Way and Little Basin Road, has been used through the years as a hotel and restaurant and an environmental education camp. The 444-page “Big Basin Redwoods State Park Final General Plan and Environmental Impact Report,” released in 2013, suggested the site “will be transformed into the primary visitor contact facility and gateway into Big Basin Redwoods SP headquarters area” as it “is one of the few sites available within state park ownership that would accommodate new development and uses to help reduce the high visitor use intensity occurring in the Headquarters area.”

The proposed new main entry, however, is located much too close for comfort for at least one group of organized Boulder Creek residents.

Uninvited new neighbor

Charlynn Atiam, who has lived across the road from the Saddle Mountain property for the past 36 years, said she used to believe there was an invisible sign in front of her home reading, “If you’re lost, stop here.” After the fire, Caltrans closed down Highway 236 — also known as Big Basin Way — from Saddle Mountain north past the park, to where the road connects with Highway 9. Atiam said uninvited visitors have only increased since the road’s closure, with three people that recently walked into her backyard and were about to let themselves in the door when she encountered them. They were looking for directions to Big Basin, she said.

“My whole point in looking at this is, No. 1, the traffic that would keep any of us from being able to get to our homes is my biggest concern,” Atiam said. “The second of that is the trespassing and the absolute lack of respect that a lot of people have anymore. It’s only going to get worse.”

Those that saw the 2013 plan and were troubled said they doubted such a plan would gain the funding or the will to ever come to fruition. Even Spohrer said he had thought the plan unlikely when it was approved nearly a decade ago.

“I think people didn’t think that there would ever be a time when historic structures would be moved out of the basin,” Spohrer said. “I was one of those people. I was like, yeah, that’s a hard thing to contemplate, taking CCC-era (California Conservation Corps), beloved, beautiful structures and thinking we’re just going to abandon those and we’re going to move. But the CZU fire was a major event and when it comes to infrastructure, it was very destructive. And it changed the calculus for what would be possible.”

Still, the use of Saddle Mountain property just makes sense, Spohrer said. The site is easily accessed by Highway 236, is outside the park’s old-growth, has utilities, electricity, water and septic systems and has communications access, he said.

“These are general guidance documents, this is not a buildable plan. A buildable plan is what comes at the next stage of planning,” Spohrer said. “So, we’ve been trying to be very clear with the public that there will be ongoing opportunities for input from the specifics, like a master plan for facilities. That’ll be something that will be a process that will include public input, there will be public comment on that.”

  • The stark post-burn reality at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in August 2020. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

  • A fallen tree continues to burn near Big Basin Park Headquarters on August 28, 2020. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

  • Big Basin Redwoods State Park Headquarters in 2014. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel file)

  • The stone steps are all that currently remain of park headquarters at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. (Shmuel Thaler — Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Show Caption of

Expand Waiting to be heard

Among 29 residents who have joined the opposition against use of Saddle Mountain as the park’s main entrance, nine lost their homes in the CZU Lightning fire nearly two years ago. At the beginning of June, Jesus Beltran, a Big Basin Way resident, gathered a small group of his neighbors at a home near the Saddle Mountain property to speak with the Sentinel about the community’s concerns.

Leslie Keedy described her life in a temporary location in Aptos while “jumping through hoops” to obtain needed permits to rebuild. Keedy, who works for the city of Santa Cruz, said residents such as herself were “highly distracted” by the process of rebuilding their lives and not paying attention to Big Basin’s plans. She, like others, had to be alerted by remaining neighbors to upcoming virtual meetings. Back in 2013, Keedy said she wrote a two- or three-page rebuttal to the park’s master plan, and never heard any acknowledgment or response at the time. Now, she fears the relocated entrance will increase littering, trespassing, illegal dumping, road deterioration and tree poaching from her land, issues she said were heightened after the park service acquired the Little Basin campgrounds in 2011.

“All of these existing problems are going to be exacerbated by the change of use and the volume of people that are now coming,” Keedy said. “I think the real issue is just the lack of discussion with the people impacted. City of Santa Cruz parks, if we did this this way, we would be lambasted. It would be horrible.”

Beltran’s home, not far down the road from Saddle Mountain, was among those structures spared with the help of firefighters’ response. Beltran is leading the organization of his neighbors and keeping them updated on the ongoing park Reimagining process. Beltran’s goal, he said, is to ensure that both his neighbors and the greater San Lorenzo Valley have a definite voice in the park’s future.

“Thirty thousand people call SLV home,” Beltran wrote to State Parks officials in February. “We need to ensure that we are guiding Park development in a way that shares this beautiful park with our international community of visitors while ensuring impact on our day-to-day lives is considered seriously.”

Beltran told the Sentinel that existing park stakeholder groups, from his perspective, was skewed toward park and environmental stakeholders, rather than local community stakeholders.

Becoming park ambassadors

Spohrer said that, as plans become more developed, new planning and environmental documents will be created with finer details and impact mitigations — also providing opportunities for continued public input. Related Articles

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“We will be engaging with stakeholder groups, of which there are many, but I think our neighbors there at Saddle Mountain who have attended these workshops and given us some comments about their concerns about potential impacts, by the change that would occur by developing facilities at Saddle Mountain, they will definitely be one of our larger stakeholder groups that we’ll be engaging with throughout our stakeholder process,” Spohrer said.

Atiam and some of her neighbors differ on what they believe is the solution to the park redesign process. Some hope park officials will return fully the headquarters to its historic location, maintaining the same feel and experience visitors have experienced for more than a century. Atiam said she believes the visitor structures can be broken down over several smaller existing leveled sites between Saddle Mountain and the former entrance. Beltran suggests repurposing former campgrounds or using Saddle Mountain only as an overflow parking lot and shuttle pickup spot.

Other neighbors pointed to Sempervirens’ recent nearby acquisition of 153 acres of land formerly owned by Roy Kaylor and now dubbed the Gateway to Big Basin. The group is in talks with state parks officials about adding the property to the Big Basin footprint, as occurred with the Saddle Mountain land. Several raised fears that the Gateway property would be turned into campgrounds, where fires set legally and illegally could once again endanger their homes.

“I’m not an environmental scientist, but it doesn’t seem that you need to move 2.8 miles to lessen the impact, given there’s a lot of other patches in there,” Beltran said of efforts to protect the park’s old-growth trees.

Beltran said he does not want the discussion to turn into one where the neighbors sound as though they are opposed to preserving the old-growth forest.

“Whether we like it or not, we’re ambassadors to the park because we are here, and we would like to be involved,” Beltran said.

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California Politics | Gavin Newson spars on Twitter with Alabama Governor over how to spend federal aid

By Amanda Albright | Bloomberg

California Governor Gavin Newsom blasted Alabama for spending pandemic-relief aid building prisons, the latest round in his very public campaign criticizing GOP governors in other states.

In a video shared on Twitter, Newsom said Alabama — led by Republican Governor Kay Ivey — chose to invest in “prisons and punishment” with federal aid while California spent some of its money on education. Alabama officials approved the use of about $400 million of its pandemic relief aid to finance the construction of two men’s prisons, which activists have criticized.

Lotta talk about education & "choice" from these GOP governors.

Lets look at the "choices" theyre making.

When states received new federal money, CA gave 3.5 million kids college savings accounts.

Alabama spent it on two super-sized prisons.

Actions speak louder than words. pic.twitter.com/khHpcKrJOc

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) August 15, 2022

Newsom, who is considered a potential Democratic presidential candidate in 2024, has been attacking Republican governors like Florida’s Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott in Texas. Given that he’s expected to easily win a second term as governor in November, Newsom instead has spent time boosting his national profile.

Newsom’s tweet led Ivey to strike back on Twitter. “Governor, folks are making their choice, leaving California in droves and calling ‘red states’ like Alabama home,” she said. “Down here, we’re focused on public safety. And if we’re talking covid relief, we invested billions in our students.”

Alabama is eligible for more than $2 billion of the $200 billion of fiscal recovery aid that was set aside for US states as part of the White House’s American Rescue Plan legislation, according to the Treasury Department. The $400 million that was allocated toward prison projects is one of the state’s biggest spending priorities for that set of funds so far, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Alabama also received federal aid for education through different legislation, including the Cares Act in 2020 and the American Rescue Plan in 2021.

“Governor Ivey, as clearly stated in the tweet, is referring to all covid relief money, including anything from the CARES Act and the Consolidated Appropriations Act both passed under President Trump,” Ivey’s communications director Gina Maiola said in an email. “So, again, as the governor stated, Alabama invested billions of dollars into students, teachers and parents.”

California used more than $1 billion of its $27 billion of state fiscal-recovery aid to create a new child savings account program in the state, among other uses.

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

©2022 Bloomberg L.P.

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