10/18/2007 L.A. Citybeat
Excerpts...for full story go to http://www.lacitybeat.com/article.php?id=6345&IssueNum=228
The gateway to PG&E’s land, though, had been wide open – and for a reason. We were actually invited. We were invited because, for the first time in well over 35 years, PG&E has agreed to grant public access to the stunning coastline it has claimed as its own ever since the Diablo Canyon project was approved in the 1960s.
The story, which has hardly been well publicized, is relatively straightforward. A few months ago, PG&E applied for permission to build a new above-ground storage unit for its spent fuel from Diablo Canyon’s twin pressurized water reactors. The Coastal Commission, which scandalously signed off on the nuclear plant when it was first proposed 40 years ago, decided this was an opportunity to right a long-festering wrong, and told the power company it could make the modifications it wanted on condition that it open up a stretch of its coastal lands.
As of a few weeks ago, that is exactly what PG&E has done. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, hikers are invited to come through the chain-link gate, just as we did, and follow a carefully marked 1.5-mile circuit heading down to the PG&E side of Coon Creek Beach, across to a headland called Point Buchon, and back to the gatehouse.
The gatekeeper made sure he cautioned us not to step even a few feet away from the designated path, mentioned several lines of electrified fencing we might want to avoid, and insisted we check back in with him before leaving.
It may not have been the warmest of welcomes, but the pay-off was amazing. From the PG&E side, we could appreciate the dramatic stone archways framing Coon Creek Beach and explore its kelp-strewn caves, which are accessible at low tide. Back up on the fragile sandstone cliffs, we peered down into a dramatic sinkhole just a few yards from the shoreline and, best of all, enjoyed unobstructed views of the drop-dead coastline heading south, including clusters of tall, table-like rocks where hordes of pelicans and seagulls sat tamely just out of reach of the pounding Pacific surf.
By next year, we later discovered, the entire path to the lighthouse should be open to the public seven days a week – PG&E successfully negotiated with the Coastal Commission to get to that point in stages. It’s hard to know whether to cheer at this development – the 13 miles of PG&E land from Point Buchon to Point San Luis, just around the corner from Avila Beach, constitute some of the most beautiful coastal scenery anywhere in California – or to continue to be appalled, as many people have been for decades, that such a jewel of California’s natural landscape should be closed off at all and exploited for financial gain by a large power company.
It wasn’t just the Coastal Commission that gave PG&E the green light to build Diablo Canyon – the Sierra Club was also complicit, making the insane argument that this stretch of coastline was somehow preferable to the Nipomo Dunes between Santa Maria and Pismo Beach (since converted into an ATV beach and thus ruined for an entirely different set of reasons). PG&E essentially bought off the Sierra Club, promising the wife of the club president a seat on the company board and offering the entire club leadership free flights to the area in Frank Sinatra’s Lear Jet, with Danny Kaye providing in-flight entertainment.
It didn’t take long, after the plant opened in 1973, to appreciate the magnitude of what had been conceded. When the reactor’s plumbing had its first hot flush in 1974, it killed tens of thousands of wild California red abalone in Diablo Cove – an outrage that prompted the formation of an energetic opposition group, the Abalone Alliance, and an ever larger series of protests culminating in a 10-day occupation of the entire site in 1981 leading to the arrest of close to 2,000 people.
Around the same time, an enterprising young engineer discovered an error in PG&E’s earthquake protection calculations, triggering a three-year closure while the company rushed to protect the site from the Hosgri Fault, which runs just two miles off the coast. That might have been the end of Diablo Canyon altogether, but for the intervention of Ronald Reagan who encouraged the Environmental Protection Agency to grant PG&E a $2.5 billion loan to complete its construction work.