Tuesday, March 27, 2012
California Route 1
From the city limits of Santa Cruz north to Half Moon Bay, California Route 1 follows the coastline for nearly 50 spectacular miles. There’s virtually no development along that stretch of road, and the little there is would hardly be considered obtrusive: Farm structures, parking areas and picnic tables at state beaches, a few scattered residences. The town of Davenport, which can be driven through in less than a minute at the posted speed of 45 mph is the only outpost of civilization.
Forty years ago I made that drive shortly before the November general election. There was a measure on the ballot, Proposition 20, which would establish a state commission entrusted with coming up with a plan to protect the California coast. The day I made that drive I remember thinking how badly I wanted it to pass and thinking that if it could save just half the open space between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, it would be a great success.
It was even better; for all intents and purposes, the drive today is the same as in 1972. How much of that is owing to the Coastal Commission and how much to other forces can be debated, but the degree to which the open coast in the northern half of California has been protected is nothing less than astonishing, given how close much of it is to Silicon Valley and the greater San Francisco urban area.
The only significant new development I can identify between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay since 1972 is the Costanoa resort, which offers tent cabins, camping, a store and restaurant about halfway along the route. It’s on the inland side of the highway so it doesn’t affect the view toward the ocean, and it’s set back and screened from the road so as to be hardly noticeable.
I can’t object to that, and in the spirit of full disclosure should mention that in the mid-1990s I worked briefly on a plan, ultimately unsuccessful, for a public-private partnership to create a campground to serve one of the state parks along that stretch of road. Like Costanoa, it would have been inland and largely screened from the road, but it was controversial, and the plan was ultimately withdrawn some time after my involvement with the project ended.
North of San Francisco, there’s another stretch of about 150 miles where Route 1 follows a largely wild coast. The only settlement of any size is Fort Bragg, at the northern end of that drive. Otherwise there are a few towns of under 1,000 people, fairly widely dispersed, and some stunning views. Sea Ranch, an exclusive residential development in northern Sonoma County, is about the only sight of human hand on the coastal side of the road, outside those small towns. And even Sea Ranch is well done and largely set back from the road so as not to be visually bothersome.
We tend to worry a lot about our vanishing open lands, but as any airplane flight will show, there are still a lot of them left. The great majority of California and the country at large is still undeveloped — some of it by concerted action and some by simple fate or circumstance.
Thirty five years ago this month Linda and I drove up Highway 1 north of San Francisco to Mendocino for our honeymoon. Later today we’ll be heading that way again for an anniversary getaway. We’ll be in a nicer car than we were in as newlyweds, but the road itself won’t be any nicer. It’ll be almost the same as it was 35 years ago, and that’s fine with us.