WESTPORT – The transfer of ownership from the state of California to local Native American tribes passes through the legislative powers in Sacramento with very little opposition.
The 172-acre property along the coast south of Westport has been in the hands of CalTrans for decades. If SB231 passes – and the State Assembly and Governor Newsom sign it – CalTrans will work with a consortium of local tribes to return the property to them as a nature reserve.
Senator McGuire and the CHP were contacted for this article but did not return a comment.
The initial consortium includes nine tribes from Sherwood Valley, Round Valley and Coyote Valley, but could expand to incorporate more. The legislation, which was introduced by State Senator Mike McGuire and co-sponsored by Assembly Member Jim Wood, includes provisions that prevent development. SB231 allows ceremonial uses while continuing to ensure public access.
While the plan was passed in the Senate without opposition (and is expected to pass in the Assembly), it has caused some local dismay in Westport.
The city is divided on the issue as the 172 acres included in the Blues Beach transfer: Blues Beach is a mostly unsupervised property that locals tend to use for unauthorized activities on state-run beaches, such as the driving on sand, fireworks and camping at night. (Although these activities are expressly prohibited.)
The legislation guarantees free public access to the beach from sunrise to sunset. Overnight camping is currently prohibited and will continue to be, but CalTrans depends on the California Highway Patrol to enforce it.
When CalTrans spokeswoman Cori Reed reached out to CHP for law enforcement data, they told them state parks would have this data, but state parks would not be. not the main agency at Blues Beach according to Rex Loren, public safety superintendent for state parks on the Mendocino Coast.
The remainder of the 172 acres is difficult to reach and little used. The subject property is located west of the freeway and begins north of Bruhel Point and ends at Blues Beach.
The tribes, who have yet to create a nonprofit to take possession of the property, have not developed a formal conservation or enforcement plan.
Melanie Rafanan, president of the Sherwood Valley Tribal Council, explained that the tribes have been pursuing land transfer since 2011. She has been working on the project since 2019.
âWe want to protect native plants and ocean life. Rafanan said. âIt will provide a place to harvest traditional foods and for cultural education. “
Once SB231 becomes law, Rafanan says the tribes will create a nonprofit and formalize conservation plans. According to Reed, this is also new ground for the agency. CalTrans will develop a transfer process when or if the invoice goes through.
However, some things are subject to change. Currently, Mendocino County has a policy that prohibits recreational driving on beaches or unauthorized fireworks. CalTrans, which is not subject to county policies, allows recreational driving. According to Rafanan, this activity will likely be reduced.
There are liability issues to consider. On June 5, 2017, a vehicle drove to the beach around 4 a.m. at low tide and was swept away when the tide returned. Several agencies responded to remove the vehicle and its occupant from the water later in the morning.
Rafanan also said that even among different tribal leaders, there are different ideas about what should and should not be allowed.
While the tribes guarantee free public use for daytime activities, including fishing, they will continue to ban overnight camping and likely take steps to enforce it.
Reed says CalTrans is not actively managing the site. There is no scheduled garbage collection, nor regular maintenance. On a recent visit, there were no garbage cans or sanitary facilities on the beach. This means that anyone using the beach is self-regulating for waste disposal and must find their own bathroom.
In Westport, there are two Blues Beach stories: Thad Van Bueren, former chairman and current member of the Westport Municipal Advisory Committee (also known as WMAC) wholeheartedly supports the transfer and has collected signatures to show support local.
According to Van Bueren, the tribes are the ideal group to take care of the land and prevent the types of degrading activities that are currently occurring. Van Bueren cites fires caused by illegal fireworks, overnight camping without proper facilities, garbage and vehicle damage as reasons to support the transfer.
On March 13, the Westport Volunteer Fire Department and CalFire responded to a wildfire in Blues Beach. Someone fired a rocket into the hill, causing a small fire between the parking lot and Highway 1. The thief fled the scene, leaving fireworks, firewood, cans of gasoline, food, coolers and sleeping bags on the beach. Firefighters cleaned up the site after extinguishing the blaze.
However, another WMAC member Gary Quinton strongly opposes it – he has also started petitions to keep the property in CalTrans’s hands or otherwise open it up to another uncontrolled nonprofit. by local tribes.
Quinton claims CalTrans does a great job managing the beach and he thinks he should be left alone. He also said CalTrans came to pick up trash twice a day, which Reed denied. Quinton and his supporters are also unhappy with the state’s outreach to the local community.
Legislation has been a regular topic of discussion at WMAC meetings this year. Van Bueren and Bill Knapp – also a member of WMAC – wrote about the law and history in the Village Society newsletter, The Wave. At the June 1 meeting, the topic was discussed in depth with input from local residents pro and con.
At a previous WMAC meeting, representatives from McGuire’s office and tribes joined via zoom to answer questions about the project. Quinton has expressed his displeasure in the responses provided and continues to push for more detailed plans as well as to generate opposition.
If the SB231 passes, it will be the first such land transfer in this region – and possibly in the entire state of California.