Comments on the California Valley Solar Ranch Project
Larkspur, CA 94939
It is often the intangibles in a thing that constitute its essence - gives it meaning, worth and value. And so it is with the Carrizo Plains National Monument (CPNM). Aldo Leopold wrote in A Sand County Almanac that “A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” We would add that a thing is also wrong when it tends to destroy the intrinsic beauty and essence of a natural public treasure - which is the Carrizo Plains National Monument. San Lois Obispo County holds this precious geography in sacred trust for the benefit of current and future generations. It would be a travesty and betrayal of that trust were the County to approve industrial scale solar development on the door step of this national treasure.
A National Monument differs in essence from a National Park only in classification. The CPNM is a raw reach of unique natural landscape whose power to inspire awe, imagination and dreams and hold in thrall any who venture into its back country lies in its ineffable beauty, history and sacred standing to Native people. This land of little rain holds many mysteries and mythical tales to be experienced only in the silence of the land, its remoteness and unspoiled character of its setting. It is truly an oasis in time and cultural memory worthy of our most careful stewardship.
The Carrizo Plain, California’s Serengeti, was designated a National Monument in 2001 for many compelling reasons – its unique remote landscape and geological features, ecological diversity, and its sacred cultural significance. Over time, it has become a destination for increasing numbers of visitors from throughout the world, a place of evocative peace and tranquility, of haunting allure to those who eagerly seek its vast vistas, the myth and mystery of human presence long ago, and the draw of discovery offered by a ramble in the rolling Temblors and Calientes. It offers the solace of silence and solitude, the democracy of open space not restricted in use to a privileged few by expropriation, heredity, or arbitrary class distinction: A landscape uncluttered by crass human works (other than the passive presence of existing transmission lines not associated with lights, noise, habitat destruction, and traffic). It is imbued with an unquantifiable, immeasurable essence, which is precisely what makes natural national treasures like Grand and Bryce Canyons, Grand Tetons, Zion and Death Valley, all National Monuments at one time, the unique, legacy lands the public has come to cherish and appreciate. We are talking about a natural wonderland that deserves and will one day achieve world heritage status if we don’t destroy it first by negating its core values. It is a storied land steeped in cultural richness – an honored place in the memory of indigenous ancestors and their descendents. The imposition of a massive industrial complex on this sacred land and human sensibilities of visitors is surely preventable desecration.
As is the political reality of many National Monuments and public parklands, their circumscribed legal boundaries are confined within a larger geographic context whose own preservation is vital to maintaining the integrity and richness of the officially designated site. So while legalistic markings on a map are necessarily narrow, our thinking, appreciation and measure of its worth must not be. It is our responsibility as stewards of this unique reach of wild Nature to guard against human incursions and perturbations, both within and outside its legal boundaries, which will invariably result in the material diminution of the Monument’s intrinsic worth and value – the very essence that underlay its designation in the first place. Like the idea of public parks, National Monuments are the people’s places to be protected and preserved in perpetuity for the benefit of current and future generations.
Although the large scale industrial solar project that is the subject of this EIR is located outside the CPNM on adjacent private lands, its development and operation will necessarily have significant, irreversible, individual and cumulative adverse spillover effects on vital public values of the Monument. There can be no doubt these negative impacts will permanently diminish and even destroy the integrity and viability of ecological, aesthetic, cultural and recreational resources and values within the Monument. The significant adverse effects on the essential, intrinsic values of the Monument – its isolation, tranquility, visual integrity, cultural sacredness – cannot be mitigated and are scarcely discussed in the DEIR. Failure to meaningfully address these most significant, permanent negative effects of the proposed project is a fatal flaw.
As special commons, essentially a democracy of place, set aside in perpetuity for all to experience and enjoy, we must guard against any development that will compromise the very values that justified setting them aside as legacy lands. Surely we are not yet so impoverished in vision, resources and caring for precious, heritage places in our community that we would willingly tear them down to fuel engines of industry.
It would be a travesty were we to destroy rare, irreplaceable public places in nature and deprive unborn generations the blessings of what should rightfully be their natural heritage. There can be no doubt that if this proposed industrial solar project is built on the Carrizo Plain the essence of the National Monument will be destroyed. We are not saying don’t build industrial scale solar complimented by distributed small scale energy production and distribution (e.g., solar on rooftops). We are saying build them elsewhere. There are alternative locations outside the Carrizo Plain (i.e., Westlands in the Central Valley) that won’t destroy the Monument and that avoid major ecological damage.
Because there are viable alternative locations for this industrial solar project and because its significant negative impacts are so significant and unmitigatable, the project must be denied in the proposed location.