The Holy Smokes! of Ruddell’s Smokehouse

Smoked Shrimp Taco
Smoked Shrimp Taco

If you are fortunate to be motoring one of the most breathtaking stretches of scenic Highway 1 on the Central Coast, you must exit in Cayucos and drive through this quaint old beach town to the edge of the Pacific.

If you happen to drive by the exit, distracted by the panoramic ocean view, you’ll have to turn around. If you don’t, you’ll regret it until you come this way again.

Because right there, at the corner of D Street and Ocean Front in seaside, sun-drenched Cayucos, you will find one of the smallest but most sought-after food  lover’s destinations in all California, Ruddell’s Smokehouse.

Have you ever tasted fine smoked food? If you have then you know it’s the King of BBQ. The aroma alone is enough to awaken you from a long spell of bland dining. What hot smoking does to tenderize and enhance fresh, quality fish, meat and cheese elevates them to a new dimension of taste that gives every bite a rich, burnished flavor not easily forgotten.

In recent years, the smoked fish and meat tacos and sandwiches that pour out of “Smoker Jim” Ruddell’s 250-square-foot euphoria factory have become as magnetic an attraction in Cayucos as the beach, surf and sunsets. They are that good – and Jim knows it, and he’s just grateful that things worked out that way.

You see, Jim feels he’s the caretaker of a recipe for happiness he’s glad to share, a recipe that has changed his life and brought the awesomeness of Cajun-smoked shrimp, albacore, salmon, chicken and pork loin – as well as smoked oysters and cheddar cheese on the side – to pilgrims of the palate from near and far.

Jim sells his signature albacore and other smoked specialties by the pound, but it’s his tacos that sell by the ton – the shrimp taco ($6), smoked albacore taco ($5.50), smoked salmon taco ($5.50), smoked chicken taco ($4.50) and smoked pork loin taco ($4.50) are what people wend their way to Ruddell’s for – that and the lure of beach and roar of the waves.

Smoked Salmon Taco
Smoked Salmon Taco

Each taco begins with a full salad of greens, chopped red leaf, sliced tomatoes, shredded carrots, chopped celery and apples inside a hot flour tortilla. When your fish, chicken or pork hits the salad and tortilla – after being smoked southern-style in Jim’s savory blend of gourmet herbs, sugars and spices over alder wood or apple wood – it’s transformed into something boldly unique, a bursting California Cajun taco that doesn’t just stand out in a crowd, it creates a crowd.

Ruddell’s large, robust sandwiches – smoked pork loin ($10), smoked chicken ($10), smoked salmon ($11.50) and “The Ultimate Tuna” with smoked, glazed albacore ($11.50) – are all served on a fresh baked roll with spicy mustard, mayonnaise, sliced tomatoes and fresh salad greens.

Salads and vegan are also in the mix – with smoked albacore or salmon ($12.50), smoked chicken ($11) or a tossed green ($7.50); or veggie taco ($3.50) or veggie sandwich ($7.50). The fish menu is seasonal and based on availability, and sometimes also features ahi and ono.

Wrapped and ready for take-home in the deli case are slabs of smoked salmon ($19.99 lb.), smoked albacore ($18.99 lb.), a whole smoked chicken ($8.50 each), smoked pork loin ($10 lb.), smoked oysters ($2 each/$24 dozen), and smoked cheddar, mild and sharp ($11.50 lb.). You might want to call ahead and place an order.

Ruddell’s is take-out only and offers a few patio tables and chairs for local consumption. However, the beach and ocean are only steps from Jim’s front door, and they’re free. To those who know the true value of things, it’s a rare California experience to be missed at your peril because this one’s got a boomerang attached to it, and you’ll be back. Bottled water and Calypso Natural Lemonade are the regular beverages. Note: If you find a table, sit on your napkins or put them in your pocket or the wind will blow them away and you’ll be running down D Street after them.

Ruddell’s Smokehouse, 101 D St., Cayucos, Calif. 93430. Hours: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. every day. Telephone: (805) 995-5028. Website: http://www.smokerjim.com.


01

 

“Smoker Jim” Ruddell and the Sweet Smell of Success

As Jim Ruddell sees it, he has one of the best jobs in the world, and what Jim sees up close every day is a sight for sore eyes for everybody else in the world. How many people’s front door opens to the beach and Pacific Ocean, the coastline, open sky and a face full of sun? And because he’s so good at what he does, he knows that this is the way it’s going to be for him as long as he wants, and that’s why he’s one of the friendliest people you’ll ever meet on the street in Cayucos.

Jim couldn’t imagine in his wildest dreams that he would be as successful as he is at something he loves doing. His life has been a journey to salvation, searching for a better life for his family, struggling to stay afloat, and finally hitting the bright side of the moon. You read about such success stories; you dream, work hard and pray, but don’t think it will happen to you. So Jim Ruddell lives in a constant state of disbelief, stunned and humbled at the same time. Because it’s happened to him.

“When I started here on a day like today, you could have rolled a tumbleweed down that road and not hit anything.”

That’s what Cayucos was like when Jim opened for business in December 2001.

“For those first several years there wasn’t a whole lot of business here. Since then Cayucos has very much become a destination, and there’s so little of the Cayucos kind of experience left to be found that people are really digging it, they’re really gravitating towards it,” he says.

“Up till about three years ago – I meet a lot of people here,” he pauses to add a little weight to his words, “people would come in here and I started hearing, ‘Wow, this is such a cool town. We know real estate’s going up and it’s getting kind of pricey but that’s OK. We really like it here. This a great place. We’d love to come and live here.’

“About three years ago it did this 180 degrees and turned into, ‘This is such a great town, it’s got so much potential.’”

Jim, who has surfed all his life, looks out at the ocean.

“It’s the last beach town on the coast,” he says, explaining the attraction that brings more and more people to the cozy oceanfront community. “When I grew up in Southern California, all the beach towns were like this, every one of them, and a good portion of them had a smokehouse right by the pier, and they would service the fishermen and the hunters. They’ve all been exploited now, and those who recognize that are the people that are saying Cayucos has so much potential.”

New Road Ahead

Jim’s journey up the coast began with major changes in his life and career.

“My wife and I are refugees from Los Angeles,” he says. “My daughter was born on April 27, 1992, and the Rodney King riots started on the 29th.” That was the beginning of the end of the Ruddell family’s life in LA. Jim was running the service department at Sheridan Toyota in Santa Monica at the time. “Because of the curfew I was the only car on the Santa Monica Freeway at 6:30 p.m. going home. I had a two-day-old baby in the hospital, and I went, ‘We’re done, finished.’ It took us a year…”

It helped that he had some idea where his next stop would be. But he also knew it wasn’t going to be easy starting over after years in LA and making it work in a very different economic environment.

“My brother has lived here since the ’70s, and we looked at this area for many years, but you have to have something to do when you come here; you don’t just move here.”

So Jim took the big leap, transitioning for awhile by working for the Toyota dealership in San Luis Obispo. He was involved in building the new Toyota dealership on Los Osos Valley Rd. But the move had its scary realities. The serious downshift in pay from LA to SLO wasn’t working. He had been in the car business a long time, and he was burned out on it before he moved up to the Coast. He knew he had to get out and that it would be risky. And he knew he had a future; it just wasn’t in the car business.

He didn’t have to look far for inspiration.

“My whole family on my father’s side is from the south, Louisiana, we’re Cajun people, so I’ve been around the fire all my life, I’ve been around smoke,” he says. “So when I came up here I looked around. I’d heard about the Santa Maria barbecue. It’s rural, agricultural, and I thought there’s a bunch of people that are barbecuing and smoking up here, doing some really cool stuff. So I started looking around, and by and large it’s very ordinary. There’s absolutely nothing here that’s particularly good.

“I built a smoker in my backyard after work, and I made a deal with a guy up on a ranch up here on 41. He gave me an old barn and I built myself a smokehouse. At that time there were a lot of fish coming into the harbor and it was very affordable, so I started smokin’ fish and selling it out of the back of my truck by the side of the road. I’d pull up and put my signs out — when I wasn’t getting run out by the cops and busted by the health department…”

Stepping into Greatness

Driven by his need to get out of the car grind and build his own business, and guided by his ability to make things happen when he sets his mind to it, Jim took the plunge.

“I started my business in 1996, and I quit working several times because I ran out of money,” he says. “One day I was working at GMC up in Paso, and Kathy called me and said, ‘Honey, how would you like to wake up in Morro Bay every day and drive all the way to Cayucos to sell your smoked fish every day of your life?’

“I said, ‘Yeah, right.’ She said, ‘No, no, when you come home tonight. Let’s go for a ride, I want to show you something.” Kathy took him to the corner of D Street and Ocean Front in Cayucos and showed him the location. “This used to be the Taco Temple. This is where they started.’”

Taco Temple needed a dining room. They had outgrown the tiny 250-square-foot space, and so they opened their business a few miles down the highway in North Morro Bay by Spencer’s market and kept the lease on the Cayucos property. Says Jim,”I looked at this and thought, ‘I can do this, I can make that happen.’

“I had no idea what the configuration of it was going to be, only that I was going to sell more fish.”

That 250 square feet, by the way, includes bathroom and storage, and a smoker about the size of an old refrigerator.

“I have a 3,000 square foot business in 250 square feet, and it works,” he says. “And it continues to grow and we continue to accommodate that. What’s really cool about it is we’re below the radar, kind of, we’re off the grid in a way. Like I don’t get visits from famous chefs going, ‘How do you do that out of that little hole in the wall?’ If they knew the kind of groceries I was putting out here… I do a lot of business out of 250 square feet. So I made a deal with Adam and Dawnelle, the people who own the Taco Temple… and voila, here we are.

“I have never put the key in that lock and not wanted to be here,” says Jim about his job. “Is that just wonderful? It’s impossible to put words to it. It’s surreal. And it’s just continues to grow. It has its own energy. There’s these bywords like synergy, but it’s true.”

Word Spreads

In 2005 the Food Network’s “BBQ with Bobby Flay” show sent a crew to Ruddell’s and taped an episode. “That thing still has legs,” he says, amazed. “They did this episode and it came out on a Friday before President’s Day weekend of 2005. I was totally unprepared. We were impacted to the point where we could not get the food out the door. The next morning we were just inundated. They ran that show once a month for three years and then they said they would continue to run it once a month for four years, which they did, and when that ran out a new food kitchen channel came along and they co-opted it, and they started showing it.”

That set off a pure-gold chain reaction. Sunset magazine, Coastal Living magazine, even The New York Times, have, with a boost from the internet, sent smoke signals nationwide and worldwide. Ruddell’s is the most looked-at feature in the history of The New York Times Travel Magazine, says Jim. “They did a taco tour of the California Coast, and when they told me The New York Times, I said, ‘New York Times? Who reads The New York Times?’ Boy, do I know about The New York Times now! When people are planning their itineraries they go to The New York Times. It’s a pretty cool deal.”

Now social media has discovered Ruddell’s, and it’s eating up his tacos like the smoked candy they are.

“I wouldn’t know a tweet if it was swimming in my soup,” he says, simply incredulous over it all, his Smoker Jim’s cap pulled down almost over his eyes. “There’s still so much I don’t get.”

Becoming Smoker Jim

What Jim does get very well now is that no matter what happens, no matter what tomorrow brings, he has something that people want. “That’s what makes this thing happen, and the ambiance, the whole thing, I have found that my base time here at the store is highly productive – because I’m Smoker Jim,” he laughs. “This persona kind of happened, this Smoker Jim thing.”

Now he’s recognized in a bookstore at the San Francisco Airport, and walking around Sacramento he’s approached by a guy who goes, ‘Dude! You are the dude, you are the taco dude! My father-in-law loves you!” It happens all the time, says Jim.

“So I’m just riding this thing along, having a ball, and just fascinated by it.”

With the kind of success he’s had it’s natural to think about how far he could parlay the business. But Jim has resisted the temptation to multiply his success by opening up more smokehouses. He knows it could be a real money-maker, “but,” he quickly adds, “that is not what this is for…

“I don’t take credit for any of this,” he says, acknowledging the Man Upstairs. “I’m just participating and I’m kind of a custodian in a way. I don’t own it… He’s the boss, I just run the thing. It’s a gift. I’ve got five complete business plans all ready to go. But when I realized what it is I put all those plans in a drawer.

“I have been effectively saved. My life has been incredible. You know, you read interesting stories. Well, this is mine and it’s real. It’s real and it works every day.”

For all his success, Jim remains modest, down to earth and appreciative. “If I started taking myself too seriously I would have nowhere near as much fun, and probably it wouldn’t work. The whole idea is when people walk in that door they know this thing is what it is – it is what it is, and there isn’t another one of these anywhere and there’s not going to be.”

Right now, business “stays at a level where it’s manageable and I don’t have a bull’s-eye on me.” He has three employees and says, “I’m going to bring a fourth guy on because there’s not enough of me to do what I gotta do…”

To be exact, there’s only one of Jim, and he’s got a routine that would fry any man. “By the time I get here it’s about 20 minutes to 3 [in the a.m.] and I work until about 10, and when I get done smoking and doing some of the stuff I have to do, I prep a little bit for the guys, and they come in at 10 and prep to open at 11 o’clock. So theoretically I am done at about 11 o’clock, but it doesn’t quite work out that way. It’s almost a constant adaption because the business just keeps getting bigger…”

Ruddell's Smokehouse
Ruddell’s Smokehouse

Smokehouse Secrets

And the reason it keeps getting bigger is staggeringly simple: People talk. Word of mouth. They don’t stop talking about the food.

“It’s incredible smoked food,” says Jim sincerely. “It’s really, really good! I mean, you bite into one of them tacos…”

Some say the secret is in the sweet, pungent smoke of the fruity woods that fuel his electric smoker. “I use primarily alder for the albacore and the salmon. I use the apple wood on my jerky and my shrimp. It’s lighter. It has a little more punch than the alder does to give it a bit more body. We don’t have a lot of it around here. There is some. It’s from the northwest. There are a lot of alder trees up there. Some of the Indians have been using alder to smoke their salmon for probably thousands of years.”

Some say it’s the apples. “The apples are my wife’s deal,” he says. “They’re See Canyon Fujis. I buy a bunch of them and I put them away. That, and what really makes that thing happen is we have a flour tortilla, we put some olive oil on it and put it on the grill. Then we flip it over and put some cumin on it, and then the sauce, which is whole mayonnaise and a little Gulden’s Spicy Mustard. When it all hits that hot oil, the cumin, that’ll send you off in to spasms! It really works.”

Rise of the Taco

“When I opened up,” says Jim, “I thought I’m not going to sell enough fish to pay the bills and make some money so I’ll make some tacos, maybe make some sandwiches. I figured maybe 30% of my business would be out of the kitchen, 70% would be out of the deli case. It’s exactly opposite, 180 degrees off. I sell a lot of fish out of the case but I sell a lot of tacos.”

How many tacos is a lot? “On the 4th of July I sell 1,000 tacos in one day,” he says. “I put up a little tent out here, and we close it off. Nobody can go in. Because there’s 50,000 people in town on the 4th of July. It’s a hoot. It’s Americana at its absolute best.”

Preparations begin early that morning. “The crew comes in a 7 to start making tacos so by 11 o’clock we’ve prepped and we have 400 tacos ready and we just phase them. These things have really good legs. Cal Poly kids during finals will buy a dozen of them, stick them in the refrigerator and eat them for several days. So they hold up.”

Jim has also developed a business providing tacos for local marriages, which, because of its idyllic location, Cayucos is known for.

“A lot of people get married here at the Vet’s Hall and various venues. They call me up and they want 200 tacos for their party, so I make them before work, before we start our day, and everyone of those people have called me back and said ‘you made our wedding.’ Most of them said, ‘I didn’t even get one, I couldn’t even get to them.’ I took 250 tacos a day down to the Sea Glass Festival two weekends ago and at 4 o’clock in the afternoon that taco was as good as at 10 o’clock in the morning.”

Now, the only questions left to debate among smoked fish aficionados involve splitting the hairs of superlatives: Are Jim’s tacos the best in the west? Based on the sheer flavor explosion to the senses, many people believe it’s a fact. And so they keep coming. Every day. Like the waves rolling up on the beach almost up to Jim’s doorstep.

Today, Ruddell’s Smokehouse enjoys one of the highest ratings ever on Yelp, and is featured on TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet. And one night you’ll be up late channel-cruising and run into that episode of “BBQ with Bobby Flay” from 2005, and you’ll recognize the Smokehouse and recall that taste, of tender, tangy smoked fish, alder wood and apples, and the next day you’ll drive the magnificent Highway 1 to Cayucos, one of the most beautiful highways in the world, and you’ll walk into Jim Ruddell’s smokin’ knothole by the ocean, step up to the counter and say: “One smoked albacore taco for here – and one to go!”

View From the Front Door
View From the Front Door

 

Lois Capps Pushes for Diablo Seismic Test in Washington; Seismologist Disputes Claim

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LoisCapps
Lois Capps

Congresswoman Lois Capps (D-24th District) emphatically restated her support for a PG&E offshore high-energy seismic survey in Estero Bay, near the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in Avila Beach, during a January 28 hearing in Washington of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power.

Last November, the California Coastal Commission unanimously denied PG&E a permit to conduct a high-energy seismic survey off the Central Coast. Capps now appears to be attempting to supersede the state Commission’s ruling by taking her case directly to Washington regulators.

Leading up to Election Day 2012, which took place a week before the Coastal Commission rejected PG&E’s proposal, Capps seemed to temper her pursuit of a high-energy seismic survey.

“On a more local issue, PG&E’s application to do controversial seismic testing off the coast, Maldonado says the testing needs to be done now, so that we can move on,” wrote the Tribune in their Oct. 14 editorial endorsement of Capps.”Why the hurry? Why not try to develop a seismic testing program that will minimize the impacts on sea life and the fishing industry? That’s Capps’ position, and we believe it makes sense.”

A month later, the Coastal Commission determined that there is no such thing as a high-energy seismic test that minimizes the impacts on sea life and the fishing industry, and that no testing makes more sense in marine-protected, mammal-rich Central Coast waters.

Having prevailed by double digits in what was forecast to be a close vote over Republican Abel Maldonado, Capps has again turned up the volume on seismic testing. She still wants the tests conducted and, according to a recent press release from her office, “in a manner that protects marine life and the environment.”

During the Subcommittee hearing in Washington, Capps aggressively questioned Nuclear Regulatory Commission Chairman Allison Macfarlane, reading from a prepared statement about the need for additional studies prior to relicensing Diablo Canyon.

“Now, we’ve known for a long time that this nuclear plant sits on the Hosgri fault, earthquake fault,” Congresswoman Capps said to Macfarlane. “But in 2008, the U.S. Geological Survey discovered a new fault called the Shoreline Fault. The Energy Commission recommended – and our state PUC directed – that the utility conduct independent, peer-reviewed, advanced seismic studies prior to applying for relicensing. As you know, PG&E asked to have their relicensing request paused, pending completion of these studies, and the NRC granted their request and I supported that action.

“PG&E came up with a plan for the studies,” said Capps, “but the Coastal Commission, California’s Coastal Commission, rejected it last year due to environmental concerns. I was similarly concerned about these impacts on marine life, which is why I supported making it a limited pilot program.

“But the health and safety of my constituents is my top priority, and I strongly believe that additional study of the fault is needed before the relicensing process can move forward. While I understand this effort has been driven by the state, I would hope the NRC would also want to have the best, most up-to-date information about this fault.

“Chairman Macfarlane, do you also agree that having additional, independent data on the Shoreline fault would be helpful? I’d appreciate just a yes or no.”

Hardebeck’s Views

Macfarlane didn’t respond with a yes or no to Capp’s somewhat contentious request. But after getting Macfarlane to agree in general that “more information is a good thing,” Capps continued: “Last October, the NRC published a Research Information Letter claiming that Diablo Canyon is seismically safe. Yet there are other scientific studies that seem to conflict with the NRC’s report and I’m holding up one.

“USGS seismologist, Dr. Jeanne Hardebeck, who discovered the Shoreline Fault, just published an article in the peer-reviewed Bulletin of the Seismology Society of America, and this is a quote, ‘Much is unknown about the Shoreline Fault.’

“This raises concerns for me and my constituents that there are still unanswered questions about the seismic situation. So Chairman Macfarlane, how can we ensure that these questions and concerns are properly addressed?”

Responded Macfarlane: “Fortunately right now there’s an ongoing process. There’s a committee called the Senior Seismic Hazard Assessment Committee (SSHAC) actively evaluating the seismic situation at Diablo Canyon and they’re in the middle of the process. We’re observing this process and are looking to see what the outcome is.”

Capps persisted. “The fact remains that another federal scientist – in a peer-reviewed study – says more information is needed. So we clearly need to figure this out. I think we can all agree that every angle must be thoroughly examined. The NRC analysis needs to incorporate independent, concrete data that can be tested against those of seismic experts, like Dr. Hardebeck.

“I think it makes sense to have the best eyes and minds in our country working together, looking at these seismic issues. Because actually this is first and foremost about safety. The NRC has a responsibility to make sure Diablo Canyon is as safe as it can be today, but also into the future.”

Concluded Capps: “I want the record to note: Diablo Canyon and the NRC have more than a decade to make these decisions because these licenses don’t expire until a decade from now so there’s no rush. We must work together to find a responsible way to gather and consider the additional data before relicensing moves forward. … I hope you share this commitment, and I look forward to working with the NRC to ensure this process is done right.”

Congresswoman Capps held up respected USGS seismologist Dr. Jeanne Hardebeck’s recent study, “Geometry and Earthquake Potential of the Shoreline Fault, Central California,” before the Subcommittee as documentation that high-energy seismic surveys absolutely needed to be done for relicensing Diablo; yet, even if few committee members had read Dr. Hardebeck’s study, even fewer, if any, knew what her actual views are regarding the earthquake faults and high-energy seismic testing.

Last August Dr. Hardebeck told The ROCK: “We do have a pretty good idea where the faults are from ‘low energy’ seismic imaging, locations of small earthquakes, and gravity and magnetic studies. The new studies, if successful, could add some new information that could refine our models of where the faults are and how they connect, but we’re not expecting anything strikingly new.”

“My views haven’t changed,” Dr. Hardebeck emailed The ROCK on March 21. “Nowhere in the [Seismology Society] paper do I suggest that high-energy seismic surveys are needed to solve the important outstanding issues regarding the Shoreline Fault.

“My conclusion in the paper is that the Shoreline and Hosgri Faults can be ‘imaged’ from the locations of small earthquakes, and that this ‘imaging’ is good enough to demonstrate that the two faults are linked and that the Shoreline Fault is not broken into segments.

“I also conclude that the most important unknown about the Shoreline Fault is the rate at which it moves, or equivalently the rate at which it might produce large earthquakes. This is a question that cannot be addressed through high-energy seismic surveys.”

Singling out Dr. Hardebeck as the supporting science behind her demands for seismic testing, contrary to Hardebeck’s actual views, demonstrates just how hard Capps is pushing a PG&E seismic test in the halls of Washington, far from the California Coastal Commission’s unanimous rejection of the environmentally destructive high-decibel test, far from the world-famous whale-watching waters of California’s majestic Central Coast.

END

Editor’s Note: On Oct.12 the NRC wrote a letter to PG&E declaring the Shoreline Fault within acceptable safety limits to operate Diablo Canyon. “Based on our review,” NRC senior project manager Joseph Sebrosky wrote to PG&E, “the NRC has confirmed our preliminary conclusion that DCPP’s ground motions from the Shoreline fault are at or below those for which the plant was evaluated previously and demonstrated to have reasonable assurance of safety.”

The NRC stated that it did not require the proposed 3D high-energy test, though it remained receptive to any fresh data the test might uncover. At the same time, seismic exploration of the lengthy Hosgri Fault had been limited to Box 4, Estero Bay. With NRC’s renewed confidence in the stability of the Shoreline, the dynamics of the test had shifted, questioning the urgency for the project, if not the necessity. 

SEISMIC SHAKINGS: CPUC Won't Pursue Testing This Year; Navy Tests Torpedoed

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CPUC Won’t Pursue PG&E High-Energy Testing for “at Least a Year”; Navy’s Proposed Tests Off So. Cal Torpedoed by Coastal Commission

The 3D seismic-test bull’s-eye has been removed from Estero Bay for one to two years, according to the Independent Peer Review Panel (IPRP) advising the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) on seismic risks to PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant and SCE’s San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). The CPUC regulates the state’s two nuclear plants.

Said Chris Wills, of the California Geological Survey, on behalf of the peer review panel at their February 25 public hearing in San Francisco: “We heard pretty clearly from the Coastal Commission that they don’t want to hear back about high-energy seismic surveys unless it’s the last thing in the tool kit and we know exactly what seismic hazards data will come from it, and that it is critical for a safety evaluation of the plant.

“So, because there’s all these other types of studies that can be done to constrain seismic hazards at the plant, we’re not going to be able to answer that question for at least a year, maybe more, and it’s likely that we won’t be discussing high-energy seismic surveys again probably that amount of time,” Wills said. “If we find out the information we could get from those is critical then we may come back and have PG&E and their consultants look into how to evaluate the impacts and whether this can be done safety; and, of course, the whole permitting process is not us, it’s State Lands and Coastal Commission. We have not said we’d never consider it but we think there’s no point in considering it for at least a year.”

Wills’ statement comports with the California Coastal Commission ‘s unanimous decision last November to deny PG&E a permit to conduct high-energy seismic tests in Estero Bay off the Central Coast. If the CPUC were to send PG&E back to the Coastal Commission for a permit to conduct high-energy surveys, the Commission has already told PG&E not to come back with the same proposal expecting different results.

Edward Randolph, Energy Division Director for the CPUC, said: “We will be first and foremost seeking the advice and counsel of the peer review panel before we go forward. No decision has been made one way or the another from what the PUC would be asking PG&E to be doing going forward. First we’re going to seek the advice of the panel.”

High-energy testing is not out of the question yet in Southern California water, however. The Coastal Commission says that Southern California Edison is interested in pursuing high-energy seismic surveys (HESS) in 2014 to evaluate the seismic risks to nuclear reactors at its idle San Onofre power plant.

While HESS may be out of San Luis Obispo County waters for 2013 and perhaps 2014, so-called low-energy surveys (LESS) are still permitted off the Central Coast through most of 2103. The State Lands Commission has been charged with rewriting and updating the antiquated 1984  permit that has allowed LESS to continue for the past five years, although HESS and LESS share dangerously high decibel levels and overlapping thresholds for mortality to marine mammals. State Lands permitted the PG&E high-energy survey and will hear the request to permit SCE’s high-energy survey. The Coastal Commission has essentially banned HESS from coastal waters and is presently looking into LESS impacts on fish, fishing and marine mammals.

Meanwhile, those attending the Coastal Commission hearing two weeks later in San Diego were able to experience a bit of leftover déjà vu from last November’s momentous hearing in Santa Monica. This time, playing the role of PG&E was the U.S. Navy.

The March 8 hearing in San Diego weighed a consistency determination by the U.S. Navy to conduct the Southern California portion of its Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Program (HSTT) in the offshore waters of the Southern California Range Complex.

As with PG&E’s proposal, and for similar reasons, the Coastal Commission voted unanimously and unconditionally to deny the Navy a permit to test sonar and munitions for five years starting in January 2014.

Michael Jasny, Director of NRDC’s marine mammal protection project, summed up the Navy’s numbers and the implications. “130 mortalities, 1600 cases of permanent hearing loss, more than 8.8 million instances of temporary hearing loss and biologically significant disruption. These numbers are 13 times larger than anything the Navy has proposed before,” he said.

“Sound is the primary sense in whales and many other ocean animals. This is really an enormous amount of activity. I heard biologists who have worked out in the Navy’s range describe with strong concern the number of potentially dangerous activities that might be taking place at any given time.

“The Navy’s activities would kill marine mammals,” Jasny stated for the record. “The Navy attributes most of these deaths to its underwater detonations, which range from less than a pound to more than 500 lbs. of net explosive weight. The Navy tries to mitigate this by using visual observers to spot marine mammals before they enter the blast radius, but many of the Navy’s explosives use timer delays that cannot be disarmed before marine mammals are spotted and… that’s the reason why several dolphins died in the exercise off San Diego in 2011. Marine mammals were indeed detected but the Navy couldn’t halt the detonation. It’s important to point out that these injuries occur at sea and can happen without any animals coming to the beach.”

Continued Jasny, “The Navy estimates that there will be 130 mortalities over all five years. We think for several reasons beginning with the sheer number of detonations that they propose that this is an underestimate but the Navy’s numbers are high enough… The Navy estimates that more than 1600 marine mammals would suffer permanent hearing loss over at least part of their auditory range…

“In all, the Navy estimates that its activities will significantly disrupt vital behaviors in marine mammals more than 8.8 million times over five years, and as incredible as it may sound, we think these are underestimates, as the standards that the Navy uses are comparatively far less conservative than those used in the Diablo Canyon EIR. They don’t reflect the threshold of impacts seen in, for example, the blue whale study and other studies as well.”

This is the third time the Coastal Commission has turned down the Navy for such an exercise in some of the most mammal-rich ocean in the world, and this ruling doesn’t mean a lawsuit by the Navy won’t eventually allow it to conduct training and testing to maintain readiness in the interest of national security, which it has previously done, but the Coastal Commission has still sent a clear, consistent message, regardless of the serious considerations involved, that it is doing its job.

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