Mendocino Group Defends the Albion Headlands
The Mendocino Group of the Sierra Club has taken up the defense of the Albion Headlands from more development. The 80-acre Headlands was zoned for 40-acre minimum lots in the 1985 Local Coastal Plan to protect the visual resources, open space and agricultural values of this property. It encompasses the rolling hills just southwest of the Albion bridge, and is the most prominent landform in Albion.
The property provides the only walking access to the ocean bluffs from the town, and is seen by hundreds of people every morning as they drive down from the residential areas of Albion, and by millions of tourists each year driving up Highway 1 toward Mendocino and Fort Bragg.
Since 1988 the owners have tried several plans to subdivide the property for a gated community. A General Plan Amendment was rejected in 1988-92 and a Boundary Line Adjustment was rejected in 1998. In 1995 the owners had sought and received 16 tiny lots on the south side of the property through Certificates of Compliance (CoCs), which detailed ¼ acre lots from a 1906 map. The owners are now trying to use these CoC lots to break up the rest of the Headlands through boundary line adjustments.
The proposal is to move three of the tiny lots out onto the 80-acre Headlands to form the basis of a 4-parcel "gated community." One other CoC lot is already available for building, and there are another 10 lots waiting for future development. This manipulation of the existing tiny lots has the potential to undo the efforts of the Local Coastal Plan to have prominent and culturally important lands held in large lots for the value to the community. Albion has no public parks, and the harbor and all coastal bluffs are cut off by private establishments.
The Headlands property also holds the South Albion Bluff Trail, which has been used by the public for decades. In 2004, the owners blocked the trail with razor wire and hired guards to intercept and reject any hikers or divers who dared to use the trail. Although the trail is in the Local Coastal Plan, and had been in constant use, the county refuses to try to protect the rights of access to the bluffs and shoreline.
The local Sierra Club and Albion Residents Association have taken on the challenge of securing the Prescriptive Rights to this trail through collecting surveys of people who used the trail when it was unfettered. This is proving difficult as many of the users are from out-of-town and are hard to locate, but the effort continues.
In the November 24, 2008 hearing, the Coastal Permit Administrator, Frank Lynch, heard all the arguments against reconfiguring these parcels, as well as support and allegations from the owners and their employees. The Albion Residents Association, the Sierra Club and several concerned citizens entered comments in favor of retaining the Local Coastal Plan provisions for 40-acre minimum lots and protection of visual resources, and the dedication of the coastal trail to the western point. Petitions to protect the zoning were delivered with 278 names, and over 25 Prescriptive Rights surveys from people who used the trail before the razor wire was put up to cut off the entrance.
Another important point was the use of tiny lots from 1906, most less than a ¼ acre, to break the zoning on the Headlands. Many areas of the coast have these lots, and developers are trying to move them around to break up larger parcels, leaving no open space between the mansions that crowd our beautiful coast.
CPA Frank Lynch indicated that Certificate of Compliance parcels have created serious planning problems in Mendocino County and are not an automatic approval for development. He did, however, approve the application knowing "it would be appealed." The project has been appealed to the Board of Supervisors; a hearing date in early summer 2009 is anticipated, and an alert will be sent to Sierra Club members when the date is confirmed.
Residents, visitors, hikers, divers, nature lovers, and others who are concerned about the Albion Headlands, the bluff trail and the use of Certificates of Compliance that undermine our General Plan and Local Coastal Plan are encourage to contact the Sierra Club Mendocino Group, Coastal Trails Committee, c/o PO Box 415, Albion, CA 95410, email
and/or write the Board of Supervisors at 501 Low Gap Rd. Room 1090, Ukiah, Ca 95482, asking that the current RMR-40 zoning remain intact and the bluff top trail be established. We will contact you by email (send yours in!) when the exact date of the hearing is known. We hope you will be able to attend or send your comments to the Board of Supervisors.
Chair, Coastal Committee
Mendocino Group, Sierra Club