Opinion: Why the Fight to Protect Paddling is Worth It

Trinidad paddlers
This fall a group of Trinidad, Calif., paddlers protested the potential land transfer, and hotel development.Courtesy Jason Self

It’s now or never, folks. There’s only three days left before we, as paddlers, could lose one of the last pristine stretches of coast in California.

I for one cannot sit idly while a huge corporate box hotel ruins that. First off, it’s not just a hotel — the Cher-Ae Heights Indian Community of the Trinidad Rancheria also want to build a new highway exit, RV Park, minimart and gas station to accommodate the hotel. Second is the matter of principle; it’s important to me personally to take real action. If you’re not going to stand up and defend what’s important to you when it’s threatened, you have no place complaining.

About a year ago the Trinidad Rancheria proposed this five-story, 100-room Hyatt hotel project to Trinidad residents. I was not opposed to it. I was hesitant to lend my support to such a gaudy, tacky, out-of-place aesthetic design in Trinidad, but I supported the right of my friends and neighbors to develop and expand their business interests on their property.

TrinidadRancheria
A rendering of the proposed hotel.

As the first presentation continued, my friends and neighbors expressed concerns about the hotel project. I watched grown men cry and people pleading with TR not to destroy this beautiful place with a generic airport turnpike hotel.

At the next meeting, I expected Trinidad Rancheria to express sympathy for residents’ concerns. Instead of seizing the opportunity to work with the community to build a praise-worthy hotel that would limit impact on the environment, community, and resources, Trinidad Rancheria drew lines regarding sovereignty, Tribal law and federal versus state law, and pointing out how state laws, as well as those outlined in the CA Coastal Act don’t apply to them, despite the wishes and pleas of the community. It was at this point my support turned to opposition.

Subsequent presentations reveal little to no plan for many of the hotel project’s details. Trinidad Rancheria has now been working on it for 15 years with nothing but the drawing of the hotel. That’s a lot of time to overlook the concerns of the community, environment, and ancestral claims by Yurok and Tsurai Ancestral Society (who both oppose the hotel project, as well as a land-trust transfer that threatens public access to the harbor). After 15 years, they didn’t even think about where they’d get water for the hotel from, and they still don’t know! Yet they wanted to break ground last January.

Trinidad Harbor
The view out to the rich paddling just off shore of the Trinidad Harbor. Read more on the tension between paddlers and the land owners. Jason Self

As my opposition grew stronger, I talked to more people in town. Nearly every person speaks against the hotel project, though just as many say there is nothing we can do to stop it. No one else appeared willing to take the lead on resisting this project.

I realized then that, as a paddler and outfitter oriented to the lifeblood that the access provides, I was in the best position to rally folks to take action. I weighed the risks to my business and comfort in the community and decided that protecting Trinidad Bay and this community from corporate greed and destruction far outweighed any adverse affects I would experience personally and decided to take the lead. I started raising awareness and organizing opposition.

I know other paddlers feel the same way (see the petition here). With Trinidad Rancheria, we see no concern for community or environment. Visual impacts, water supply, traffic: all oversights. We see a monolithic corporate entity attempting to build a big box hotel on an unstable bluff on an undeveloped coastline for their own financial gain and nothing else. If it was any other corporate entity we would have ran them out of town on Day 1.

Yes, this is complicated and delicate as our friends and neighbors are part of that corporate entity. But the bottom line is it’s not right, and I am going to fight like hell to defend what is right. I’m not asking you to chain yourself to a bulldozer; I’m just asking for a few sentences typed and emailed to the CA Coastal Commission before June 7

Please send your comments to: [email protected]

In subject line, reference:
Public Comment on June 2019 Agenda Item Wednesday 21a – CD-0001-19 (Bureau of Indian Affairs, Trinidad)

— Jason Self is the owner/operator of Northern California outfitter Kayak Trinidad, who has already filed suit against the Trinidad Rancheria tribe’s efforts to take the land surrounding the Humboldt County city’s harbor into a federal trust, which would allow it to supersede state laws that guarantee his (and other public users) access to the only protected launching point within hundreds of miles. Last week, tensions rose they attempted to restrict his access, as well as other private paddlers, to the ocean at Launcher Beach.

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The article was originally published on Canoe & Kayak

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