The drive down Silverado Canyon Rd. smells sweet of coastal sage scrub. It guides you through overhanging oaks, boulders blistering under the sun, and the occasional squirrel scurrying across the path, but the view of foothills whizzing past is abruptly interrupted by an assembly of motor graders and excavators. The St. Michael's Abbey is preparing to grade 38 acres on Holtz Ranch any minute now and conservationists are scrambling to stop it before the project completes.
Of course, conservationists have tried to nix the project since St. Michael's first purchased the historic property in 2011, a battle that the Weekly covered in full. The original abbey sits on El Toro Rd., but the Fathers wanted to move further into the canyon to be closer to nature – an intention that conservationists roll their eyes at. For St. Michael's, getting closer to God's great earth means building a compound for Christ. The plans include a monastery, convent, private boarding school, gym, athletic field, dormitories, guest cottages, a cemetery, and a gift shop; think Saddleback Church but, you know, Catholic.
Except these amenities are going up along a two-lane highway, in the middle of beautiful rolling hills, on a historic property. A lack of funds forced the project to scale back; once their modifications were approved, they moved ahead with full force and already stumped half the orchard. The brand-new buildings that will stand out in awkward contrast to the rest of the landscape are a small part of conservationists' worries, however. A huge compound like this will inevitably clog up the tiny highway that's only used by residents and bikers and classic-car lovers on weekends. Critics fret that the new facilities will also create light-pollution in one of the only areas dark enough for stargazing. Plus, part of the endangered arroyo toad's habitat is on Holtz Ranch.
Joel Robinson, a naturalist who leads hikes and clean-ups in the area, started a petition to stop development on the land and it only needs about 60 more signatures. Once the petition reaches the 500 count Robinson will present it to Supervisor Todd Spitzer in hopes that the project will be halted. If you have a desire to stop this development in the canyon, head over to MoveOn.org and sign Robinson's petition.