Saturday, June 25, 2016
THE SEA RANCH CONUNDRUM
The Sea Ranch is a several thousand-acre development of gracefully designed homes set above ocean cliffs or nested deep in the coastal woods.
It used to be a center for logging activities supporting San Francisco’s growth, then sheep property. Some evidence of that ranching heritage still remains. California’s Highway 1 – one of the world’s greatest motorcycling roads – ask anyone – bisects the development. For a ten-mile stretch, small, well-maintained private roads reach into the prairie grasses that top the coastal rim, and amongst those grasslands are ribbons of houses most people I know could not afford to own.
The Sea Ranch was going to be a modern coastal community located between Marin County’s wealthy enclaves to the south and Fort Bragg’s gritty, working-class outpost to the north. There’d be grocery stores, hotels, galleries and recreation – all placed on this windswept tableland west of the San Andreas Fault and east of the Pacific. It would be a play land for the affluent who could, in essence, have it all with them as they left it all behind. At least that’s my rudimentary understanding of it.
At the time of The Sea Ranch’s origins, private coastal properties could change hands – change from ranching to subdivisions – change from open range and to privatized beaches and bluffs – without much oversight, coordination or discussion of opportunities gained or lost beyond those monetary. Enter the California Coastal Commission whose existence owes itself to the threat of a widespread locking up of our coastline. Visionary one time Sonoma County Supervisor, the late Bill Kortum lead a charge suggesting that the coastal expanses belonged to the citizens. Excess, as it was proposed, needed to be curtailed in the interest of access.
Many times I have traveled this section of highway thinking how great it would be to stroll along the tops of the bluff with that on-shore breeze whipping at my face. Signs warned me off in all but a handful of designated access routes to specific postage stamp sized beaches.
Now, however, because I dropped about a grand on three nights in a beautiful house only steps from the shoreline, I can access over fifty miles of trail with views stretching nearly to the Golden Gate, nearly to Cape Mendocino – the lower 48’s westernmost point – and, one imagines, nearly to Hawaii. Not bad.
The conundrum is this: When the land was privately held, cattle or sheep ranchers fenced and gated miles of the coast between highway 1 and the bluffs.
Riding along on the BMW or Guzzi, I never considered parking at a wide spot, squeezing through the rail fence and traipsing across private property in order to glimpse a section of rocky coastline or roiling sea. Why, then, should I be upset that a development of privately held homes restricts my access?
I know the answer to this, of course. The Coastal Commission had it right. Their argument that the coastline belongs to all and that access is for everyone is just in a socialistic sense. Perhaps not so in a corner of the world where private holdings bring esteem and demand respect.
Nevertheless, the kibosh was placed upon such urbane development and a more modest, but certainly quite upscale plan evolved:
A clubhouse, some preservation of historic buildings, tended and groomed trails and CC&Rs.
From the porch of my mine-for-three-days home I determine that not much could be better than sipping a piping cup of Point Arena’s locally roasted coffee while the morning unfolds before me.
Buzzards roost nearby.
Swallows flit here and there.
A grazing doe slips past.
I can always hear the sea’s murmur punctuated by the distant bark of harbor seals and the occasional screech of a hungry raptor.
This is a place where you can take that book you’ve been meaning to read with depth, the one that takes all your best and most focused concentration to fully appreciate, and although interrupted only momentarily by a kit fox carrying off a hapless vole or field mouse as he scampers between your house and the next, finish the book in a deep and satisfying manner. (Mine happened to be Ian McEwan’s 2005 morality play: Saturday.)
Later, I watch the afternoon breeze pick up, worrying and bending the coastal prairie grasses to its will.
Members of the non-migrating herd of deer will soon be out for their evening forage. Edward, the lab mix, will see them and downshift into his predator mode from behind the picture windows. “Can’t I just have one of them?” “Sorry, Ed, No.” The Sea Ranch is a pleasant, controlled place, “and you must be on a leash at all times.”
The sun sets and the winds calm and the sea air floods the house through the home’s open windows, inviting us out for a moonlight stroll.
Perhaps there’ll be harbor seals again tonight.
Yeah. I like this. But I’m not sure about the fairness of it all. I think I’ll need to secure this rental for a few days in October, and again in February – perhaps yet again this time next year – to further research my feelings on the matter.
Accessing “The Sea Ranch”: Located on California’s legendary State Route 1 about midway between Tamalpais Valley where it leaves US 101 in Marin County and Leggett, north in Mendocino County, where it rejoins it, there are several engaging routes linking the coastal highway with 101. Get a good map or atlas and explore.
Rental information is readily available. We secure ours through http://searanchrentals.com/
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