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When compromise isn’t 

In defense of access, magic, and good relations

The Hearst Corporation and the state of California solidified a landmark deal this past February. All the uncalloused hands have been shook, but I’m left wondering: Are there still citizens opposed to this development scheme disguised in do-gooders finery?

The people got 82,000 acres — including 13 miles of coastline — plus slimmed down development plans for along this stunning stretch. In exchange, Hearst, a media octopus whose 2003 sales exceeded $4 billion, received $80 million — cash — and $15,000 in state tax credits. It was also given the right to build a 100-room hotel west of Highway 1, to retain five of the 18 miles of privately held shoreline, and the option of developing a 27-home neighborhood in the shadow of the mythic Hearst Castle.

On the surface, it seems the public’s really lucked out. Compromise can be necessary to evoke a precarious balance of the shafted and the gloating, sure. But when is this feel-good euphemism inaccurate to describe a verdict?

The deal’s based largely on whittling the project proposal from 650 luxury hotel rooms to 100. True, this is an over fourfold reduction, but 100 rooms worth of people is hardly an insignificant population. It’s unlikely an institution of this magnitude will long exist in isolation (ever cruised the Monopoly strip called Moonstone Beach Drive?). The proposed 18-hole golf course is gone; the potential threat isn’t.

Locals and tourists alike have quietly scampered around “The Point,� the jutting finger of cypress-covered coastline across from the Castle, for an undetermined number of years. There’s a network of unassuming trails; litter is rarely encountered; it’s about as pristine as we’ve got.

When the administrative adjustments go into effect, this tranquil humans-and-nature scene goes out. The access issue is huge: Previously assumed public rights to unlimited access (or “implied dedication�) will become virtually extinct. According to the “Hearst Ranch Draft Transaction Documents,� last updated on the day of the deal, access will be “not less than� 300 days per year, during daylight hours only, for up to 100 persons per day.

Of course, this use can only be “appropriate�: “passive recreation including walking/hiking, photography, and sightseeing.� Canine companions are nixed, and it appears running makes the hit list, too.

The current architecture of exploration — an organically accessed landscape characterized by sweet side trails and surprise — would be superimposed with a rigid organization. As the document reads, there’d be one point of entry, funneling into three trailheads, all possibly leading to a banal and dizzying loop trail. A parking lot is planned at the new trailhead. Parking limits were mentioned as well, as we wouldn’t want folks to dilly-dally in the natural world too long.

The Hearst Corporation congratulates itself for opening San Simeon Point to visitors, though fails to acknowledge that in so doing they effectively close it to those who regard it a refuge more akin to habitat than to Disneyland. In their graciousness, there are plenty of “mechanisms to ensure control.� Translation: “Transparent and attractive fencing,� docents “to create a hospitable environment,� and rangers as “the enforcement arm.�

Assuming the role of mega-developers-turned-eco-stewards, they claim that all this control is to “protect the integrity of the resources.�

In an LA Times article, Carl Zichella, state staff director for the Sierra Club, admitted how sketchy the compromise actually is. “We signed off on a huge deal without committing [Hearst to] what they need to do to conserve the natural resources of that property.�

Mary Nichols, director of the Institute of the Environment at UCLA, told Reuters the deal is “more like a peace treaty than anything else.� Hmmm — I think we could ask any Native American about the longevity of those peace treaties.

I do not wish to be one of an elite handful enjoying the scraggly Monterey Pines, aquamarine ocean, heart-shaped deer tracks, and obnoxious cry of blue jays. Yet even more strongly, I don’t want to see it destroyed by exotic McDonalds refuse and “Johnny loves Susie� tree carvers.

What does it take, then, to defend magic from forces that negotiate only in greenbacks?

Uh, magic? It’s about money, right? The economy? Sure, we’ll die to defend the unfettered consumption of plastic landfill-bound trinkets, the worship of a close-minded God, etc., etc. But magic? Is this some granola joke, some New Age distraction from your third chakra to mine? There’s money to make, corporations to get between the sheets, bulldozers to shine for that resort. You want to talk magic? Go play Dungeons and Dragons.

I’ve explored the contested crown jewel countless times, alone and in company. The feeling is, always, that the defense of magic — though fluffy as it initially sounds — is a superior battle cry.

Three reasons: One is based on the definition, “The act of changing consciousness at will.� Setting foot on the Point immediately shifts my reality — from one burdened by rat-race anxieties and a heavy focus on any time but the present to one gifted with five bodily senses tuned in to the warm smell of eucalyptus and the shadow of buzzards overhead.

Second, magic is related to the cultivation of sense of awe. This synergy needs to be nurtured, as our culture has done an exceptional job of annihilating an appreciation of non-human anything. I’m with the poet Mary Oliver, who writes, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement.�

And the third, well, how can anyone who’s read the Lord of the Rings trilogy not confuse a vulture for a Tolkienian ringwraith Or not hope for Gandalf towering luminescent around the next bend? Do you not spot the rocks with faces of craggly old curmudgeons or notice how the edge of a petal becomes the profile of a sad maiden? The existence of lovers in the medium of cadmium-colored tree bark? The Point is seething with proof that industrial “civilization� totally has slain our imagination.

I don’t know how to persuade and debate in terms of “magic� (and at this stage in the game, it’s likely too late). It’s an argument based less on monetary figures, on legalities or property rights, and more on a gut-level resonance with the long-term over the short. It considers value predicated not on financial figures but instead factors in aesthetic, recreational, spiritual, and natural dimensions. In short, it’s not how the world— at least, not the dominant paradigm one — works.

But we humans do have a connection, I think, to place and beauty that’s stronger than our fear of economic insecurity and lust for money-horny development schemes. It’s evident in art and poetry, in romance and gardens, in visionary politics and voluntary, fearless vagabonds.

Magic is more vital than greenbacks. If you don’t believe me, consider the following, written by poet and essayist Barry Lopez: “Good relations with a particular piece of land now is directly related to speculation that it may be more important to human survival to be in love than to be in a position of power.� ³

 

Katie Renz once scoured that beach for her precious lost anklet made of microbrew bottlecaps. Her webbed toes are no longer sandy, but she remains heartily opposed to those who try to dictate access. See www.resources.ca.gov/hearst_ ranch_docs_toc. html for the dirty details.

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