On the day of the great Coastside PG&E blackout, my partner and I saw a monarch butterfly while we were out walking in our El Granada neighborhood. Bobbing and weaving, it made its way down the street and then flitted up above us, as if to show off, the sun shining through its distinctive bright orange, black-veined wings. 

It made me think about climate change, fire risk, environmental impacts of development, and the desire to maintain the beauty and livability of our treasured rural-beach-agricultural community. We can blame PG&E for fires caused by poorly maintained power lines, but we need to look inward, too, and recognize that we — as a civilization — are responsible as caretakers and are culpable for many of the planet’s challenges. 

We need to examine the smallest things we do and the big decisions we make.

One of the big decisions before our community is the development of a hotel near Dunes Beach. Although 4,680 people signed a petition against the hotel development, including more than 3,000 from Half Moon Bay and the Midcoast, the developers forged ahead with their application. At the Oct. 15 Half Moon Bay City Council meeting, a good 100 people stood up to save Dunes Beach.

In addition to addressing the threat of more tangled traffic, speakers discussed habitat and environment — and the impact that a 47-acre, 212-room, 177-space RV park project (with just about six acres of proposed “open” space) would have on our coastline. Building a hotel at Dunes Beach means more than just jamming up our roads, shouldering in next to the Sweetwood campground and blocking the view to the horizon. It imperils not just our way of life but important habitat for other creatures. 

Which brings me back to the monarchs. The monarch is threatened by habitat loss as well as climate change, and their numbers have plunged during the past couple of decades. Encroachment by a development like the one proposed for Dunes Beach would be another blow. Back in June, Mia Monroe, a Muir Woods ranger and Xerces Society coordinator, led a talk about monarchs on the Coastside and included a visit to a site near Dunes Beach where monarchs overwinter. The eucalyptus and cypress trees in the grove create shelter, vines provide protection and a creek runs nearby — conditions monarchs look for in an overwintering home.

To keep track of them, citizen scientists visit the grove annually as part of the statewide Western Monarch Thanksgiving Count. Folded up and high in the trees, the butterflies are not easy to spot, but they are there. The Dunes Beach development — with its bulldozing, concrete, infrastructure, traffic, cultivated landscapes, artificial light and other human impacts — would surely imperil this habitat.

“Even places that are small and not too well known become more important in this time of climate stress,” Monroe said. “Smaller sites might gain added value.” One way to help save the monarch is also to save Dunes Beach and this small overwintering haven — for the benefit of all of us. 

Recently our 6-year-old niece visited us and saw the Save Dunes Beach flyer in our front window. Looking up at me with eyebrows furrowed, she asked, “Is Dunes Beach saved yet?” I sure hope my answer to her can be, “Yes.”

Katie Sanborn lives in El Granada and is a member of the Committee for Green Foothills advisory board.

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