Important sections of the Big Sur Land Use Plan.

The need to exclude the Big Sur planning area from any STR-ordinance. (LUP quotes to follow)

The Big Sur Coast is a legacy. For decades people have been working to protect that legacy for posterity. The coast is a natural wonder, its beauty inspires, and its rural, wild, and dramatic landscape is only slightly marred by human exploitation. Commercial development, STR’s, now threaten that legacy.

The Big Sur Local Coastal Program (B.S.L.C.P.) is the product of nine years effort to assure the preservation of this wild beauty and public access to it. Its fundamental policies: No development visible from highway 1, minimize all development to preserve its natural state and to preserve the limited two-lane highway capacity for the traveling public.

To affect this end, preserving the environment & visual access to it, the policies of the L.C.P. are to minimize, or limit, all destination activities. These uses (residential, commercial, and recreational), when compared to scenic driving, create higher levels of traffic congestion, development and pressures on both the environment & public services. Therefore the L.C.P. guides all land use away from destination activities and toward its use as a scenic highway. This use offers the greatest public access and the least impact on the coast.

Some major results of these policies are:

  1. Reduction of residential build-out by more than 90%.
  2. A cap on commercial transient occupancy build-out to 300 additional units as of 1986.
  3. Recreational build-out limited by strict environmental, visual, and public safety standards.
  4. The protection of a very small coastal community, its culture, and the legacy it represents as guardians of the land.

Highway 1 was named the most popular drive in California in 2014 by AAA . It is at or near capacity much of the year. Destination activities not allowed by the B.S.L.C.P. must not be legalized. Amending the L.C.P. to allow STR’s for the wealthy few who can afford it will further congest Highway 1, reducing public access for the many. They will create pressures for development and further amendments to the L.C.P.. Converting affordable housing to STR’s will devastate, as it has elsewhere, the community & culture that can best protect it. The result will be anything but a “quality of experience” for the visiting public.

Without the L.C.P., the Big Sur coast would have been unalterably developed & commercialized. STR’s in Big Sur represent the beginning of that corruption.

What follows are extracts from the Big Sur L.C.P. that demonstrate the above policies and intents.

1. Introduction


As the primary component of a certified Local Coastal Program, it will provide development standards to guide the actions of all State and local agencies. (LUP, 1.1, pg.1)


The rugged mountainous terrain of the Big Sur coast has had a profound effect on historical use of the area and will continue to serve as a limitation on the kinds of activities that can be carried on and the scale of development. Natural constraints to development include availability of water, difficult access, unstable soils on steep slopes, and dangers of fire and flood. (LUP, 1.2, pg.2)

The scenic qualities and the natural grandeur of the coast which result from the imposing geography, the rich vegetative compositions, and the dramatic meeting of land and sea are the area’s greatest single attraction to the public. Big Sur has attained a worldwide reputation for spectacular beauty; sightseeing and scenic driving are the major recreational activities. (LUP, 1.2, pg.2)


Past planning has been conscious of the unique qualities of Big Sur. Soon after the construction of Highway 1 in the late 1930’s, the County drew national attention when it successfully prevented construction of a service station advertising sign and won a landmark case, securing for local government the right to use its police power for aesthetic purposes. (LUP, 1.3, pg.2)

Beginning in 1959 and continuing until 1962, the County worked with local residents and consultants to develop a master plan for the coast. This plan, known as the Monterey County Coast Master Plan, has been recognized as both innovative and far reaching and has enjoyed the support of the people in the area. (LUP, 1.3, pg.2)

Thereafter, following passage of the California Coastal Act in the fall of 1976, the County developed a comprehensive work program to guide preparation of the Big Sur Coast Local Coastal Program. (LUP, 1.3, pg.3)

Public participation in development of the plan has been extensive. A Citizen Advisory Committee appointed in 1976 by the Board of Supervisors held numerous meetings to provide direction for the plan and related studies. These meetings were often well attended by residents of the area and the general public. A series of town hall meetings were held in Big Sur at important points in the process to elicit the views of the entire community. Public agency participation included frequent and close working relationships with virtually every agency with an important role on the coast. Numerous presentations by State and Federal Agency personnel were made to the community. (LUP, 1.3, pg.4)

The plan has specifically been prepared to conform to the purposes and spirit of the California Coastal Act. Its proposals are intended to resolve the difficult issues that face Big Sur’s future. (LUP, 1.3, pg.4)

2. Philosophy and Goals


The scenic beauty of the Big Sur Coast, and the opportunity to escape urban patterns, are prime attractions for residents and visitors alike. Man-made improvements detract from the near-wilderness attributes of the area if not individually, then collectively. (LUP, 2.1, pg.5)

Quality should have precedence over quantity of any permitted uses, whether residential, recreational, or commercial. Any new development should remain within the small-scale, traditional and rural values of the area, rather than to introduce new or conflicting uses. (LUP, 2.1, pg.5)

Land use planning and management policies should be directed towards maintenance and restoration of Big Sur’s remaining rural and wilderness character. Without compromising its character or depleting its resources, the area should be accessible to as many as can be accommodated. (LUP, 2.1, pg.5)

The special cultural characteristics of the Big Sur Coast should also be recognized as a primary resource. Man’s presence along this coast continues to reflect a pioneering attitude of independence and resourcefulness; the environment has been a special nurturing ground for individual and creative fulfillment. The community itself and its traditional way of life are resources that can help to protect the environment and enhance the visitor experience. (LUP, 2.1, pg.5)

From these philosophic concerns the following basic goal was defined by the Citizens Advisory Committee:

“To preserve for posterity the incomparable beauty of the Big Sur country, its special cultural and natural resources, its landforms and seascapes and inspirational vistas. To this end, all development must harmonize with and be subordinate to the wild and natural character of the land.” (LUP, 2.1, pg.5)

The County recognizes that the comprehensive preservation ethic expressed by these statements will require special vigilance and determination by all persons, public and private, whose actions affect the future of the Coast. (LUP, 2.1, pg.5)


1. Natural Resources

The County’s basic policy is to take a strong and active role in the stewardship and safeguarding of Big Sur’s irreplaceable natural resources. Where there are conflicts, protection of these national resources is the primary objective with definite precedence over land use development. (LUP, 2.2.1, pg.6)

3. Highway 1

Highway 1 traversing the Big Sur coast is a special road of great local, state, and national significance. It was built by the public primarily for scenic travel and recreational enjoyment and over the years has been managed with this purpose always in mind. In light of the public’s great need for recreational opportunities, this original objective has become even more important. (LUP, 2.2.3, pg.6)

Monterey County’s basic policy is to take a strong and active role in guiding future use and improvement of Highway 1 and all categories of land use related to and dependent on the highway. The County’s purpose will be to maintain and enhance the highway’s aesthetic beauty and to PROTECTS ITS PRIMARY FUNCTION as a recreational route. The highway shall remain a two-lane road and provide walking and bike trails wherever feasible. In order to maintain the highway’s benefit to the public as a scenic recreational travel experience, the County will pursue legislation to restrict and regulate slow moving vehicles during peak travel hours. (LUP, 2.2.3, pgs.6,7)

5. Shoreline Access

Because preservation of the land in its natural state is the highest priority, the County’s basic policy is that all future access must be subordinate to this objective. Care must be taken that while providing public access, that the beauty of the coast, its tranquility, and the health of its environment, are not marred by public overuse or carelessness. Visual access should be emphasized throughout Big Sur as an appropriate response to the needs of visitors. (LUP, 2.2.5, pg.7)

3. Resource Management


The scarcity of choice land has resulted in use of inappropriate or hazardous areas. At peak summer periods, Highway 1 is approaching maximum carrying capacity and some recreational facilities are overused. Some species of plants and animals are already extinct or near extinction, and unique and fragile habitats are increasingly threatened. Accelerated land use and development will inevitably create new pressures and aggravate perennial problems: fires, floods, landslides, water and air pollution, depletion of water resources, and further destruction of plant, animal and marine habitats. (LUP, 3.1, pg.8)

Maintenance of the quality of the natural experience along the Big Sur coast has precedence over the development of any permitted uses, whether residential, recreational, or commercial. New development should complement the area and its cultural traditions, rather than introduce conflicting uses. (LUP, 3.1, pg.8)


There is longstanding concern for the protection of the scenic beauty of the Big Sur area. During the early 1940’s, the County’s refusal to approve service station roadside advertising resulted in national attention. A landmark court decision in favor of the County, upheld the right of local government to regulate aesthetics through the police power. In the 1960’s, Highway One was designated as the first scenic highway in California’s new State Scenic Highway System. Many other measures have been taken by the County to preserve the outstanding visual qualities of the Big Sur area. These have included, among other things, use of the Scenic Conservation zone, careful site, design and landscaping control, and abatement of visual nuisance. (LUP, 3.2, pg.9)

The aesthetic and scenic qualities and semi-wilderness character of the coast have received national and even international acclaim. Accordingly, the issue of visual resource protection is probably the most significant and far reaching question concerning the future of the Big Sur coast. A major premise of this plan is that unusual action must now be taken to preserve the coast’s scenic beauty and natural appearance. The strong policies set forth in this plan are intended to safeguard this critically important resource. If carried out, they should assure the protection of the scenic magnificence of the area and reflect the desire of the people of Monterey County and the Big Sur community to preserve their heritage for present and future generations. (LUP, 3.2, pg.10)

3.2.1 Key Policy

Recognizing the Big Sur coast’s outstanding beauty and its great benefit to the people of the State and Nation, it is the County’s objective to preserve these scenic resources in perpetuity and to promote the restoration of the natural beauty of visually degraded areas wherever possible. To this end, it is the County’s policy to prohibit all future public or private development visible from Highway 1 and major public viewing areas (the critical viewshed), and to condition all new development in areas not visible from Highway 1 or major public viewing areas on the siting and design criteria set forth in Sections 3.2.3, 3.2.4, and 3.2.5 of this plan. This applies to all structures, the construction of public and private roads, utilities, lighting, grading and removal or extraction of natural materials. (LUP, 3.2, pg.10)

3.2.4 Land Not in the Critical Viewshed

A. Policies

New applicants, when selecting a building site, must consider the visual effects upon public views as well as the views and privacy of neighbors. (LUP, 3.2.4.A.2, pg.12)

4. Highway One and County Roads


A primary transportation objective of the Coastal Act is to maintain Highway 1 in rural areas as a scenic two-lane road and to reserve most remaining capacity for the priority uses of the Act. The limited capacity of Highway 1 to accommodate local and recreation traffic at a level that reserves reasonable service and emergency use and also allows motorists to enjoy the beauty of Big Sur’s scenic coast is a major concern. Because traffic volumes along sections of Highway 1 are at capacity during peak recreational use periods and because future demand for recreational access is expected to exceed the capacity of the highway, the capacity of the highway is a major constraint on the long range development of the coast. How the road capacity can be increased without damage to the intrinsic values of Big Sur and how capacity is allocated between visitor and local use is a major challenge. (LUP, 4.1, pgs.57,58)

A closely related issue is what can be done to effectively manage use levels of the highway between Carmel and Cambria, particularly as needed to protect the priority uses of the Coastal Act. This appears necessary to insure that acceptable service levels are preserved so that the highway can meet its essential functions as the sole transportation and emergency route up and down the coast, and as a safe, pleasurable scenic and recreational travel facility. (LUP, 4.1, pg. 58)

4.1.1 Key Policy

The County’s objective is to maintain and enhance the highway’s aesthetic beauty and to protect its primary function as a recreational route. (LUP, 4.1.1, pg. 59)

4.1.1 Specific Policies

C. Traffic Regulation and Coastal Priority Uses

1. To comply to Coastal Act policies concerning the allocation of limited highway capacity to coastal priority uses, 85 percent of the capacity of Highway 1 under improved road conditions and managed traffic shall be reserved to serve recreational travel, service trips to public and private recreation and visitor-serving facilities, use by military vehicles, and coastal-dependent agriculture. To implement this policy, the land use regulations of this plan limit future residential development to a level that will utilize not more than 15 percent of highway capacity at buildout. (LUP, 4.1.C.1, pg. 61)

5. Land Use and Development


5.1.1 Residential Land Use

The significance of the residential areas for planning purposes is that they have the capacity, to some extent, to accommodate additional residential demand. Unlike the larger properties or commercial centers, they are not well suited for commercial agriculture, commercial, or visitor uses; use of these areas, to the extent consistent with resource protection, should continue to be for residential purposes. (LUP, 5.1.1, pg. 65)

5.1.3 Residential Land Use

The basic recreational resource of Big Sur is the visual beauty of its striking landforms and unspoiled landscape. (LUP, 5.1.3, pg. 66)

The major recreational pursuit is pleasure driving and sightseeing along Highway 1. (LUP, 5.1.3, pg. 66)


5.4.2 General Policies

9. The following density standards for inn unit development are designed to allow up to 300 new visitor-serving lodge or inn units on the Big Sur Coast, based on protection of the capacity of Highway One to accommodate recreational use, the avoidance of overuse of areas of the coast, and the need for development to respect the rural character of the Big Sur Coast and its many natural resources. (LUP, 5.4.2, pg. 77)

E. Commercial

9. New commercial uses or expansion of existing uses will be evaluated for their impact on traffic safety and highway capacity in the area. Parking shall be screened from public views from Highway One and should in no event create hazards for motorists or pedestrians. (LUP, 5.4.2.E., pg. 84)

G. Rural Residential

2. Development in designated rural residential areas shall continue to be limited to residential uses in order to protect residents from unwanted intrusion by other incompatible activities…

I. Low and Moderate Income Housing

1. The County shall protect existing affordable housing in the Big Sur coastal area from loss due to deterioration, conversion or any other reason. (LUP, 5.4.2.I, pg. 87)

6. Public Access


6.1.1 Shoreline Access

The visual experience has been the most traditional and most dominant form of access along the coast. Therefore, preservation of visual resources is an overriding goal in planning for Big Sur. (LUP, 6.1.1, pg. 92)

Much of the coast is suitable only for visual rather than physical access. (LUP, 6.1.1, pg. 93)

6.1.5 Shoreline Access Priorities

F. Visual Resources Criteria

1. Future land use planning shall be compatible with the goal of providing visual access. To this end, all new structures and ancillary facilities should be located outside of the public viewshed as defined in Chapter 3. (LUP, 6.1.5.F.1, pg. 101)

2. Trails and access improvements including stairs, ramps, railings, restrooms and parking facilities should be sited and designed in a manner compatible with the goal of strict viewshed protection. In some circumstances, this may limit the establishment of access improvements. (LUP, 6.1.5.F.2, pg. 101)

7. Administration and Implementation


This plan is designed to implement the California Coastal Act. It is a local plan which shall direct Monterey County in making land use decisions in the Big Sur area. The advice of local residents shall be routinely sought in the administration of this plan. (LUP, 7.1, pg. 105)

The County shall develop the structure necessary to establish a permanent and authoritative voice for the residents of the community of the Big Sur coast, which shall ensure community participation in the coordination and implementation activities necessary to carry out the mandates of the LCP. (LUP, 7.1, pg. 105)


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