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
“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."