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Open Letter to the SLO County Board of Supervisors Regarding Carrizo Plain


Peter Douglas
Larkspur, CA 94939

October 22, 2009

San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors
County Government Center
1055 Monterey St.
San Luis Obispo, CA 93408

Dear Members of the Board:

I write in my civil capacity as a frequent visitor in your County and as a concerned resident of California.  I also write from the heart to save a precious reach of landscape in your jurisdiction and because of my love for this geography of raw, ineffable power and beauty.  I speak of the Carrizo Plain – an oasis in time and home to the largest remaining native grasslands and highest concentration of threatened and endangered species in California.

In 2001 a portion of the Carrizo Plain, California’s Serengeti, was designated a National Monument for many compelling reasons – its unique remote landscape and topographical features, ecological diversity, and its sacred cultural significance.  Over time, it has become a place of evocative peace and tranquility, of haunting allure to visitors 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.  As is the political reality of National Monuments, their limiting boundaries are confined within a larger setting of geography that is itself integral to 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 that will inevitably cause its ruination.  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.  While industrial solar projects on the Carrizo are proposed on adjacent lands, they inevitably have a permanent, cumulative and significant adverse effect on the integrity and viability of ecological, aesthetic, cultural and recreational resources and values within the Monument.    

When special commons, essentially a democracy of place, set aside forever for all to experience and enjoy are threatened by new development, we who care about the values underlying their creation must rally to their defense.  That is our obligation as patriotic protectors of ideals, values and virtues with which our remarkable multi-cultural nation evolved.  Surely we are not so impoverished in vision and caring for precious, heritage places in our community that we would willingly destroy them in the name of progress.  Surely we are not yet so desperate for energy that we would tear down our cathedrals for firewood? 

I sense in pockets of our political, economic and civic world of leaders, a need to be seen as progressive facilitators and not as obstructionists in the way of new centralized industrial development of renewable energy.  This is an alarming and, in the long view, a self-destructive, tragic trend because it is unnecessary and erosive of community wellbeing.  Cities and Counties are entirely capable of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and generating clean, renewable, affordable energy for their regions with existing technologies without destroying vast swaths of critical habitat and celebrated public lands. All that is needed is political will, courage and progressive vision.  

In our headlong rush for renewables, I respectfully urge you and all those in positions of influence to hit pause, step back, take stock of our human and environmental condition, and envision what we will have saved for the seventh generation of our kin.  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.  I have no doubt, that if the proposed industrial solar projects are built on the Carrizo Plain the essence of this National Monument will be destroyed.  I am not saying don’t build industrial scale solar complimented by distributed small scale energy production and distribution (e.g., solar on rooftops, built and degraded lands coupled with robust fiscal incentives).  I am saying there are alternative locations that won’t destroy the Monument and that avoid major ecological damage.  We must tell applicants to find better locations.  Clearly, we can both save precious places and dramatically reduce green house gases:  This is not an “either or” situation.

The argument that we must sacrifice fragile ecosystems for the common good (i.e., major impingement on the Carrizo to save the planet from climate change) is specious, relies on a false choice, and reflects a myopic view of the common good.  Do we seriously believe a single coal-fired or nuclear plant will not be built or shut down if the Carrizo solar projects are constructed?  Of course we must do our part to address climate change but not at the expense of an irreplaceable community jewel.       

The Carrizo Plain National Monument is growing as destination for visitors from around the world.  A core qualitative value of the Monument is its powerful sense of place evoked by beauty and the tranquility of its setting – the solace of silence and solitude, the democracy of open space not limited 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 and which present a very different experiential impact than would eighteen square miles of industrial solar installations).  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 we all appreciate and understand them to be.  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 very essence and 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 the human senses of those who travel there is surely a preventable desecration.  

If we allow the destruction of the Carrizo Plain as a National Monument, it will be a regrettable addition to an infamous litany of environmental travesties characterized by misguided environmental pragmatism, joining Diablo Canyon, Hetch Hetchy and Glenn Canyon.  I respectfully urge you to save the Carrizo Plains National Monument by opposing industrial scale energy development there.

Peter Douglas   


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