Tuesday, June 12, 2012

News Articles

We’ve made the news! The following links will take you to recent stories.

6/4/12. Press Democrat letter to the Editor: A rural factory (please write to your paper of choice, keep this issue alive)

6/7/12. Berkeleyside Newspaper: Retreat center’s expansion plans provoke concern  ( A well researched article on the Sonoma County issues and larger Nyingma Buddhist Community)

6/7/12. KQED News Story

6/7/12. Press Democrat: Retreat center’s expansion plans provoke concern

6/7/12. Press Democrat: Buddhist printing press wins OK to expand operations

6/8/12. Press Democrat: Seaview Ridge residents appeal Buddhist retreat's expansion OK

Update on BZA Hearing regarding Use Permit for Ratna Ling / Dharma Publishing

On June 7, the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments, which is part of the planning agency and makes decisions on permit applications and zoning variances, approved a Use Permit for Ratna Ling/Dharma Publishing. The following items were included:
  • Approve the conversion of 40,000 sq. ft. of temporary book storage tents to permanent use.
  • Press output will be measured by one 24-foot truck a day. Dharma Publishing officials have said this will allow some expansion of the current operation.  Press production was limited to 100,000 books per year in 2004 and reached as high as 395,000 books in 2009.   Now there is no numeric limit on book production.
  •  Approved a new six-bedroom dormitory and eight yurt seasonal campground.  These structures more than double available worker housing (primarily for the printing operation) and replace illegal worker housing in use since at least 2007.
  • Increased the number of residents to 122 from 67. (76 resident workers, 40 guests and 6 seniors in assisted care)
  •  Increased number of printing plant workers to 94 (from 27)
  • Allowed production of non-text items for sale through the onsite Dharma Publishing internet store.  These non-text items include yoga cushions, prayer beads, sculpture, gift wrap, greeting cards, posters, etc.  Production of non-text items for sale and distribution to the Buddhist community would be confined to 10% of the press building or approximately 2,100 sq. ft. of the 21,000 sq. ft. press building.  Residents and guests would be allowed to produce an unlimited number of these items in their cabins for "personal" use.

In approving the new Use Permit, the Board of Zoning Adjustments determined the 40,000 sq. ft. of book storage tents did not have to meet updated fire safety standards because they were approved by PRMD administrative decision (without public notice or hearing) in 2008.  The Use Permit Conditions of Approval are contingent on the findings and recommendations for fire safety measures following an onsite inspection of the fabric book storage tents by the Sonoma County Fire Marshall, PRMD Project Planner, Timber Cove Fire Chief and CalFire Battalion Chief.   Among the issues to be resolved is whether Dharma Publishing will be allowed to use "high pile" storage methods (12 feet or taller).  This concentration of highly combustible paper and books, in a potential warehouse fire, poses a significantly increased threat to rural, volunteer firefighters which requires additional training, equipment and water.

Coastal Hills Rural Preservation - CHRP - has filed an appeal with the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors and is awaiting a hearing date. This continues to be costly endeavor. Your financial support is essential to its success.

·      Donation: Make online, tax-deductible donations using PayPal through our sponsor the OWL Foundation - Open Space, Water Protection and Land Use; scroll to Coastal Hills Rural Preservation http://owlfoundation.net/DONATION.htm

The issue remains the same: appropriate land use in a Resources and Rural Development Zone.

Friday, May 4, 2012


Coastal Hills Rural Preservation is continuing efforts to limit the expansion of Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing.  If their Use Permit is approved, Dharma Publishing will have six presses, 94 workers (from 27 in 2004), 40,000 square feet of book storage space, no limit on the number of books they can produce and a 24 foot press supply truck every day.  Residents of the combined printing and retreat operations will be 122 (from 67 in 2004).  

Ratna Ling is organized, has professional representation and is well funded.  
Your support and donations are essential if we are persuade the County to require Ratna Ling to move their printing operation to an appropriate industrial location or at the very least return to the "ancillary" one press printing operation they presented to the community in 2004.

Unfortunately the present Board of Zoning Adjustments and Board of Supervisors is undermining the General Plan and Zoning Regulations piecemeal, throughout the county, by approving one inappropriate project at a time.  This is the case with Dharma Publishing.  (We do not oppose the Retreat Center.) The BZA and Bd. of Sups will go on their merry way unless we push back.  Please join your neighbors to preserve rural life and stop industrial development on the coastal ridges.

Our next meeting is
Monday, May 7th at 6p.m.
Fort Ross School 

A reminder: Dharma Publishing operated very successfully in Berkeley for 30 years before moving to Ratna Ling.  Now they must truck in all raw materials and ship out all finished products 200 miles to the Bay Area.  Ratna Ling pays no property taxes to offset the impact of the printing operation on local roads and community services.


At a hearing on April 5, 2012, the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments considered an application by Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing for a new Use Permit.  About 70 people attended, 60% were Ratna Ling supporters, the balance were long time coast residents.

Ratna Ling presented their proposal first. Senior leaders of Ratna Ling spoke at length before and after a professionally produced video about the importance of Dharma Publishing's mission to provide religious texts to Tibetan refugees.  Ratna Ling argued that the printing operation was ancillary to the retreat center because making books is a part of their religious practice.  This first presentation took about 40 minutes.

This was followed by a public comment period, during which each speaker is given 3 minutes.  Prior to the hearing Coastal Hills Rural Preservation asked the Board Chairman and 5th District representative, Tom Lynch, for 30 minutes to make a formal presentation during the public comment period.  He allowed a number of opposition speakers to give their time to Carolyne Singer.  She  was allowed 20 minutes to present our concerns.  Carolyne made clear the issue before the Board was land use and not religious practice or religious freedom.  Having covered the history of Dharma Publishing's ever expanding printing operation, in violation of their 2004 Use Permit, Carolyne was stopped before presenting arguments against Ratna Ling's present Use Permit application to expand the book manufacturing to 94 workers, remove all limits on the number of books produced and keep 40,000 square feet of "temporary" book storage tents.  We also presented to the commissioners a copy of our paper and online petition with 390 signatures.

During the rest of the public comment period Ratna Ling supporters and opponents were called on randomly.   Representatives for the opposition continued to present information in 3 minute segments about the inadequacy of the project's Mitigated Negative Declaration on environmental impacts, inconsistencies with the General Plan and  Zoning Regulations and impacts on the surrounding community and whether the temporary tents could meet fire regulations for long term use. The inappropriateness of this industrial scale printing operation in a rural area was made very clear. 

Ratna Ling supporters who spoke publicly included volunteers in the organization and contractors who had worked building the retreat center and printing operation.

Following public comment the BZA Commissioners questioned Ratna Ling (RL) representatives at length.  Answering questions were two members of the RL organization, who are also lawyers working for free, ex county supervisor Mike Reilly, and hired representation Steve Butler (lawyer) and Jean Kapolcok (planning consultant).

Commissioner Dick Fogg was concerned about the printing operation "mission creep", an initial objective that keeps increasing in scope.  He asked if Ratna Ling's proposed 20 year "Master Plan" would be the end of growth or if Ratna Ling would return asking for more.  Other commissioner's questions were 1) Whether a county "Transient Occupancy Tax"(TOT) can be collected on retreat guests as a possible way to recover the cost of road repair.  (Ratna Ling claimed that because all guests are "retreatants" they should not have to pay the TOT.  As a tax-exempt religious organization the retreat center and printing operation do not pay property taxes.)  2) How much of the printing operation was "vested" in the 2004 Use Permit meaning prior approval which could not be revoked.  It was unclear whether only the press building was " vested" in 2004 or whether the 40,000 sf of book storage approved by Planning without public notice or a public hearing would also be considered a "vested" right.  3) The volume and purpose of "non-textual" "sacred object" manufacture.  Ratna Ling makes yoga pillows and mats, prayer beads, cards, posters, etc. for sale on their Dharma Publishing website as well as "sacred" banners and small sculptures.

The opposition was not allowed to rebut Ratna Ling's statements or present any further information to clarify the issues the board had raised.

At the end of a five hour hearing the Board took a "straw vote" to unanimously approve Ratna Ling's new Use Permit and continued the hearing until June 7, 2012 at 1 p.m. to hear County staff, Ratna Ling and public comment on two issues:

1.  Whether the book storage tents, approved in 2008 as temporary, accessory structures, will pass County and State Fire Codes for use as permanent book and paper storage structures.   

2. Clarify the extent of non-text manufacturing at Ratna Ling and how much product is given away and how much is sold. 


DONATE:  The filing fee to appeal the Board of Zoning Adjustments decision to the Board of Supervisors is $1,052.  

Accountant Ward Anderson is handling our bank account. 
Make checks out to Betsy Anderson / CHRP.  These are not tax deductible. 
Mail checks to Betsy Anderson, P.O. Box 618, Gualala, CA 95445 


Make online, tax deductible donations through our sponsor the
OWL Foundation - Open Space, Water Protection and Land Use


Scroll to Coastal Hills Rural Preservation and make a donation through Paypal.

Thank you for your support and generosity,
Coastal Hills Rural Preservation Steering Committee

Monday, March 26, 2012

BZA Hearing is only 10 days from now!

The Board of Zoning Adjustments Hearing for Ratna Ling Retreat Center's new Use Permit is just ten days away.   

Thursday, April 5th at 1:00 p.m.
Permit and Resource Management Department Hearing Room
2550 Ventura Ave.                            
Santa Rosa, CA  95403

Many of us are busy writing a presentation for the hearing arguing that our Resource and Rural Development (RRD) Zone  is not an appropriate setting for an industrial printing plant.

Your support is essential to the success of our presentation.  We need a large number of people to show up at the hearing and let the Board Commissioners know that protecting the rural nature of the West County is important to us and the county as a whole. (Wear something red.)  Land use in Sonoma County is a political issue.  The General Plan and zoning throughout the county are vulnerable to piecemeal change from  the pressure of determined, monied, special  interests.

The Planning Department has written a Mitigated Negative Declaration (MND) saying that the Ratna Ling Project has little or no impact on the environment or community and that it conforms to the purposes of the General Plan.  They arrived at this conclusion despite the fact that the printing operation must truck in all raw materials and truck out all finished products.  This is counter to the very purposes of an RRD Zone - to promote the production, processing and protection of local resources and land based uses such as timber production, ranching, agriculture, recreation and low density housing.  

The entire Dharma Publishing operation is at Ratna Ling.  Besides books for Tibetan refugees Dharma Publishing also prints books in English for western audiences, which are for sale to support the printing of Tibetan books.  Ratna Ling is asking to remove any limit on the number of books produced and to keep 39,000 square feet of book storage tents.  Any new mission to print more Tibetan books or meet increased demand for western books will all have to happen at Ratna Ling which will lead to even more expansion.  There is a very real possibility that if Ratna Ling is allowed to keep the tents they will be replaced with permanent structures in the future.

We continue to support the retreat center as an appropriate use in an RRD zone. 

What you can do:

1.  Come to the hearing:  
Wear something red to let the commissioners know you support stopping Ratna Ling expansion.

2.  Donate $$:  
Any amount will help.  So far it has cost $6,000 for office expenses, experts and an attorney to help us develop strategy and make effective arguments.  

- You can make a tax-deductible donation, on the internet, through our 501(c)(3) sponsor The O.W.L. Foundation.  Use this link to their donation page:


and click on Coastal Hills Rural Preservation.

- OR you can send a check to: 
Betsy Anderson / CHRP
P.O. Box  618
Gualala, CA  95445
(donating this way is not tax-deductible)

3.  Share this info with your friends and neighbors.  They can sign an online petition at:

4.  Write a letter:  
There is still time.  The letter can be simple.  Just tell the County book manufacturing needs to be in an industrial zone.

Address letters to:  
File No. PLP08-0021, Ratna Ling Retreat Center    
Board of Zoning Adjustments
Cynthia Demidovich, Project Planner III                   
Sonoma County PRMD                            
2550 Ventura Ave.                            
Santa Rosa, CA  95403    
OR e-mail to:  cdemidov@sonoma-county.org

Send a copy of your letter to: 

Supervisor Efren Carrillo, 5th District
County of Sonoma Board of Supervisors
575 Administration Drive, Room 100 A
Santa Rosa, CA 95403

OR Email:   Efren.Carrillo@sonoma-county.org

Please also email a copy of your letter for our records to: SonomaCHRP@gmail.com

See you at the hearing.  Thank you for helping to keep the West County rural.

Coastal Hills Rural Preservation
Steering Committee
Carolyne Singer, Michael Singer, Ward Anderson, Bob Dickson, Bruce Johnson, Frank Locatell, Nancy Feehan

Friday, March 16, 2012

New BZA Hearing Date

The BZA Hearing for Ratna Ling Retreat Center has been rescheduled to April 5,2012 at 1:00 p.m.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Ratna Ling Use Permit Hearing delayed

The Board of Zoning Adjustments Hearing for Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing's new Use Permit, PLP08-0021, has been continued (delayed) until at least April 5th.

The new date has not been set for certain.  The date will be posted as soon as it is known.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Radio Interview about Ratna Ling/Dharma Publishing

Radio Interview about Ratna Ling Wednesday, March 7th noon to 1 p.m. KGGV-LP 95.1 FM Carolyne Singer and David Kenly will discuss the expansion of Dharma Publishing's book manufacturing operation at Ratna Ling Retreat Center on the northwest Sonoma coast.  Ratna Ling has applied for a new use permit that if approved will set a precedent for inappropriate manufacturing uses in rural areas throughout Sonoma County.  Tune in to KGGV-LP 95.1 FM "The Bridge" in Guerneville from 12 noon to 1 p.m. or you can stream the show from their website.at blogspot.com Posted By Coastal Hills Rural Preservation 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Please sign a petition to the Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments

Here is the link to the petition on Change.org:

The petition letter states:

I urge you to deny Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing's application for a new Use Permit, PLP08-0021, and further require that the printing operation be moved away from an RRD Zone (to land zoned for industrial use.) The retreat center can continue to operate as a retreat under their 2004 use permit.

Aerial photos of Ratna Ling/Dharma Publishing

          White objects in upper left corner are book storage tents (16,000 & 14,400 sq ft)
                          lower right object are press buildings and 2 tents. (click to enlarge)
                Upper right press bldg, bottom center 2 book storage tents (click to enlarge)
                   Upper left book storage tents, lower left press bldg (click to enlarge)
                                                                   (click to enlarge)

Photos of Ratna Ling/Dharma Publishing in Rural Coastal Hills

Go to this site to see photos of the Dharma Publishing facilities at the Ratna Ling Retreat Center:


Coastal Hills Rural Preservation (CHRP)

Coastal Hills Rural Preservation (CHRP) is a group of citizens concerned with preserving the integrity of rural Sonoma County, CA and protecting its resources from inappropriate land use.  We invite you to join us in addressing a land use issue in our community that can have broader, long term impacts on rural Sonoma County in general.