Public Letter to Sea Ranch

Monday, 25 November 2019

Dear Dr. Lyndon and Ms. Griffin:

Sadly, the architectural aspect of The Sea Ranch is only half the story. As the Principal Investigator for The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies, I’ve been immersed in the Sea Ranch culture for more than a year, and the slogan “Living Lightly on the Land” is only that: a slogan to sell property.

What the Center has documented in a little more than a year is a staggering loss of both hard and soft structure habitat for deer, quail, turkey, raccoons, bats, and monarch butterflies. Unfortunately, when human architecture is not balanced by a functional, sustainable landscape management policy — devoted to protecting other-than-human-animals’ homes, shelter, and safety — those other beings’ homes and safety will always be the cost of human habitat.

Our documentation has confirmed that the cutting this year (beginning in the spring) is primarily for aesthetics rather than safety. The land management and landscape policies in Sea Ranch have abandoned any preservationist stance Dundee-TSRA continue to tout.

Lisa Dundee of The Sea Ranch Association is my neighbor, and her approval is at the “bottom” of every order to cut trees and clear habitat in Sea Ranch. (Ms. Dundee was notified in January 2019 of the on-going research at the Sea Ranch. Additionally, a formal complaint is being prepared for the national offices of The Humane Society against Ms. Dundee’s position as Gualala Humane Society President.)

As the New York Times pointed out, Ms. Dundee’s fear also drives cutting decisions here: “With Northern California — well, actually all of California — burning up, we’ve really had to challenge ourselves to find alternatives to our traditions.”

The fear that “all of California” is burning infuses Sea Ranch “owners” through TSRA’s communication processes (formal and informal), and the continuous cutting and clearing go unquestioned and unchallenged in Sea Ranch. (Democratic processes and systems are only as good as the human commitment to share power via those systems and processes.)

The evidence is all around those who care to open their eyes and see beyond their own little patch of property in SR. We have filmed and photographed the destruction.

We’ve also corralled all of the Sea Ranch pieces written and published this year (next to the Sea Ranch wiki), and the narrative is clear: focus on human architecture, eliminate almost completely any reference to Halprin and his ethic, get those houses, lots, and rentals sold, and get ready for all those potential new “owners” who make reservations at the new lodge. All the other beings (and objecting humans) be damned.

(The manuscript in process that describes our findings:

The Human Basis of Democracy is a nonfiction manuscript in progress that shares findings from more than 5 years’ immersed research–post-11.8.16 — in a variety of related rural, suburban, and urban cultural contexts in California and Oregon. Stunning similarities connect each cultural site and — when taken as a whole — flip upside down conventional concepts of authoritarianism and democracy. At bottom, the book shows how the human commitment to share power in everyday practices founds and supports healthy democratic processes and systems.

The study’s findings identify everyday relational practices that function as authoritarian by stealing and hoarding power from those subject to them. Described alongside the authoritarian are also everyday relational practices that function as democratic by sharing power with those subject to them. The authoritarian practices described destroy trust, safety, and a sense of well-being which results in devastating impacts on cultural opennness, transparency, and accuracy of information, the fundamental enabling conditions that support healthy democratic processes and systems.

Also described is a generational orientation embodied by members of each cultural site whose normal relational practices function to support regime-level authoritarianism while putting the entirety of the planet and its inhabitants in peril.

The study’s mixed methodology combines ethnography, authoethnography, and critical tools and is unique in its longevity in the field and its total immersion protocols. Theoretically framed in process and personalist terms –made accessible to most audiences–the analyses of cultural norms and practices introduce newly relevant field-grounded relational concepts of power, agency, democracy, and authoritarianism while expanding the conceptual boundaries of relations beyond family, friends, lovers, and mentors.

The Human Basis of Democracy puts the tools to understand and navigate power relations in every concerned U.S. American’s hands. Unapologetically a description of what’s democratically possible in the United States, the book also makes recommendations for proliferating democratic practices by showing how power moves in everyday practices, outlines how to reclaim stolen power, and describes how to produce new sources of power through research-based creative projects and cultural work.

The book concludes with an argument for a national effort to collect “relational big data” as a systemic approach to understanding how authoritarian and democratic practices function in U.S. cultures.

Working chapters:

  • Introduction, “Why I’m Not an ‘Anti-Racist’: Learning Equity from the ‘Bottom’ of White Lived Experience”
  • Chapter I, “From the ‘Top’ to the ‘Bottom’: How Authoritarianism Found Me”
  • Chapter II, “Power and Agency Function Differently at the ‘Bottom’”
  • Chapter III, “Everyday Relational Practices At the ‘Bottom’ Create Cultures that Grow Humans”
  • Chapter IV, “All the Relations at the ‘Bottom’: Beyond Our Bubbles”
  • Chapter V, “Change from the ‘Bottom’: Time, Possibility, and Hope”
  • Chapter VI, “Relational Democracy: An Alternative Systemic Approach to Equity”
  • Afterward, “The Reasons for the Work: The Earth & Her Creatures”)

Obviously, most humans live in habitat that displaced other animals. That is not reason to stop monitoring and changing human processes whose momentum continue to unnecessarily destroy nonhuman neighbors’ homes. Decisions about tree removal, herbicides and pesticides, grasses cutting, and human architectural design need to reflect careful consideration of their impact on other animals who live in Sea Ranch.

Unfortunately for all those other animals, the human(s) making the decisions in Sea Ranch include no consideration of their nonhuman neighbors. That can change. We have made numerous recommendations to remedy the problems in Sea Ranch. You can find them here: The Sea Ranch Nonhuman Residents Project.

We look forward to sharing our findings widely.

Cathy B Glenn, Ph.D. Private Principal Investigator The Center for U.S. Rural Cultures Studies :: The Center’s Background :: The Center’s Projects :: The Reference Collection ::

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