Mill Bend Community Forum
November 29, 2017
Nearly 70 community members from Sonoma and Mendocino Counties participated in the forum sponsored by Gualala Municipal Advisory Council to discuss the sale of Mill Bend and Lower Mill currently offered for sale by the Edmunds family. Brief opening presentations offered information about the property and sale as well as the regulatory complexities facing any potential development on the properties.
A half dozen people made brief statements about their ideas for the use of the property as well as concerns about how its future might impact both the river and the community. Open discussion and Q & A followed with broad participation from the audience. Many creative ideas were voiced and recorded. Participants then expressed their preference for the ideas. The specifics presented below in Appendix A show the creativity and energy that were evident at the forum.
Overall there was overwhelming support expressed for making the land open for the public while protecting the natural environment. There was also some support for using the land to provide low income housing and for the development of a reservoir as a strategy to address the water hook-up moratorium. It should be noted that the many ideas presented are not mutually exclusive. Also, participants were limited to choosing two preferences, which probably accounts for some popular ideas receiving less visible support. There was general acknowledgement that the Mill Bend is not developable due to the sensitive nature of the environment and its location within the flood plain and coastal zone. Therefore the majority of the ideas focused on the Lower Mill.
There was support for follow-up meetings and a list of additional individuals to invite was provided by participants.
Ideas & Concerns as Presented
The ideas listed in Appendix A were presented by forum participants as summarized on flip charts by the two recorders and validated as accurate by the presenters. They were quickly grouped during the forum process, and participants were asked to express their support for the various ideas, concepts and concerns with a limit of two preferences per participant using sticky dots. (People came and went during the course of the meeting, and based on the numbers not everyone who attended chose to express their preferences or were not present during this exercise.) The number of dots placed under the grouped ideas is presented along with the content in Appendix A.
In reviewing the individual ideas as presented, common themes emerge. (Please note that the groupings presented here were not done during the forum but rather by the author of this summary who facilitated the meeting.) Over three-quarters of the participants (76%) supported “Public Lands/ Open Space” and “Ecology Center.” Supporters envision the land remaining relatively undeveloped while providing public access in ways that enhance appreciation and knowledge of the land and river while protecting the fragile ecosystem. In addition, one participant supported leaving the land “as-is” in order to protect the ecosystem.
Participants were informed by an attendee of discussions between Gualala Water Company and Gualala River Watershed Council regarding possible use of part of the land to construct a reservoir as a strategy to relieve the current moratorium on new water meters thus freeing up construction of new homes in Gualala. Specifics of the land requirements for the reservoir were not available. Twelve percent (12%) of participants supported a reservoir.
A proposal to use the Lower Mill for housing and commercial development with the possibility of low income housing garnered some interest and was supported by 5% of the participants although concern was expressed on how a sizable development would affect the viewshed from the Highway 1 gateway to the community.
Maintaining the existing Gualala Arts Center’s current overflow parking lot was verbally supported by much of the audience and a chosen preference by 4%.
Community interest in the land was demonstrated
- Community awareness of this opportunity increased
- Interested stakeholders were identified
- Many good ideas about the use of the land were recorded
The importance of this land to the community was evidenced by the large (by local standards) turn out, the active participation of key stakeholders including representatives from Redwood Coast Land Conservancy, Friends of the Gualala River, Gualala Arts Center, Gualala River Watershed Council, Sonoma County Regional Parks, and Sonoma Land Trust, and the respectful and creative dialogue that took place. The majority of the attendees became participants at some level during the evening. The facilitator has continued to receive email and verbal comments since the meeting.
Multiple ideas about acquiring this land for use as public access open space drew the most momentum. But the diversity of ideas suggests a community appetite for future forums about this land. A request was made that those individuals representing local organizations consider whether their organization would be willing to take a lead role in pursuing the acquisition.
Attention needs to be paid to the concerns that were expressed and others that will arise. The cultural diversity of the community should also be more closely represented during the planning process going forward.
Public Lands/Open Space – 37 participants expressed support
- Gualala River access
- Cornerstone of future River/Forest access
- Expand Sonoma County Regional Park to Gualala River (and Mill Bend portion in Mendocino County)
- California Coastal Trail- add to it
- Continue Gualala Bluff Trail (meet with Gualala Arts Center trail)
- Public Land/Open Space (in general) – 6 participants expressed support
- Ecology Center (Public/Private partnership) – 18 participants expressed support
- NOAA involvement
- Interpretive and/or Ecology Education Center-work with Gualala River Watershed Council to determine best use of existing buildings as possible locations
- Public/Private combination to include a water reservoir (Lower Mill) – 10 participants expressed support
- Gualala Arts Center over-flow parking lot kept as-is – 3 participants expressed support
- Private Development – housing & commercial (in general) – 2 participants expressed support
- Increase affordable housing on Lower Mill parcel (less than in current/approved Gualala Town Plan) – 2 participants expressed support
- Untitled page included the following – 2 participants expressed support
- Community deserves to grow
- Develop with University involvement
- Educational Center
- Green Ideas
- Leave the land as-is…protect ecosystem – 1 participant expressed support
- Protect Area (extra care needs to be taken to protect/restore area, and Steelhead, to health – 1 participant expressed support (recorded as a Concern)
- Lower Mill Campground – 0 participants expressed support
Concerns & Other Ideas
Participants voiced concerns about the following:
- What would a major housing development do to the viewshed as you enter both counties?
- Existing cemetery on Lower Mill parcel
- Native American/cultural importance-we want/need their involvement
- Parcels need an archeological assessment
- How six separate parcels will be “chopped-up”/developed
- Redwood Coast Land Conservancy willing to partner in exploring acquisition. Could contribute limited funding to effort.
- Gualala Arts Center would like to maintain their current over-flow parking lot and/or option to buy
- Extra care needs to be taken to protect/restore area (Steelhead) to health
- How difficult would it be to modify the Gualala Town Plan to align with visions expressed in this forum?
- Vehicle traffic in the river at Mill Bend
Other ideas, questions, etc. expressed by participants:
- Seek private/community funds to buy, e.g., 1 acre per partner approximately $22,000
- Could Sonoma County Open Space District partner to provide funding for Sonoma County parcel (approx. 13 acres that adjoins the Gualala Point Regional Park)?
- New owner donate Mill Bend to the community for Open Space
- Utilize property to accommodate bike and pedestrian traffic use (extend the CA Coastal Trail)
- Sonoma County Parks acquire and “fold-in” land adjacent to GPRP (possible boat launch)
- Sonoma Land Trust interested in partnering to obtain/seek funding (resources/funding opportunities for this type of property are limited).