SAN FRANCISCO – Coastal Hills Rural Preservation (CHRP) has asked a state court of appeals to address three issues in regards to the master use permit issued by Sonoma County to the Ratna Ling Retreat Center.

CHRP is asking the court to find the county’s approval of the retreat center’s printing press expansion in 2014 unconstitutional, non-compliant with zoning codes and a violation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The group had taken the case to the state Supreme Court, which sent it back to the appellate court for review in a November ruling.

“Sonoma County has given preference to a specific religion. By specifying that any subsequent operator of this printing facility must be Buddhist, they have endorsed a specific religion and the rights of only that religion to operate a facility," Ward Anderson, a CHRP member, told the Northern California Record.

The appeals court denied the argument that the permit was unconstitutional since it was not argued in the original Superior Court case. At that time, CHRP’s primary concentration was on CEQA violations. 

The second issue of non-compliance with zoning codes pertains to the protection by Rural and Resource Development (RRD) that the lands be low density per parcel and the uses be resource and agricultural production only.

“CHRP has objected to this development, which has gone far beyond its 2004 permit," Anderson said. "When it was granted, the retreat was to be the primary use of the property and allowed one printing press and supporting production in a rural residential area, which normally supports a family size residency (four to eight persons, per 120-acre parcel). They have expanded to six printing presses, plus according to the new permit up to 120 individuals in support of the printing operation. This is way out of compliance with the Sonoma County Regulations for RRD zoning."

The contested permit also allows new uses of commercial printing, industrial warehousing, commercial manufacturing, and a shipping and handling facility. CHRP believes the rural retreat center’s new permit allows for more of an industrial park project, which requires the infrastructure to safely accommodate industrial zone activities. The new permit establishes a 60,000-square foot facility on a coastal ridge in one of the most remote, fire-prone corners of Sonoma County. The Timber Cove Fire Protection District warned the county of the industrial fire risks that could be a public safety issue. The county approved the project despite the warning and without an Environmental Impact Report (EIR).

“Specific CEQA violations are well documented in our briefs. CHRP’s primary goal is to require an EIR which encompasses the entire project,” Anderson said. "CEQA states that an EIR be done for new large projects with possible public health and safety risks prior to permit approvals. CHRP is determined to have an EIR started when the appeals court reviews the requested issues. The group believes the report will show the new permit should have never been approved."

More News