Petition Closed
Petitioning Sonoma County, CA Board of Supervisors

PROTECT RURAL SONOMA COUNTY Deny Use Permit to Ratna Ling/Dharma Publishing

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. 

New Hearing Date Set: April 8, 2014!
Here we go again, folks. The owners of Dharma Press and Ratna Ling (Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center) have employed repeated delay tactics, canceling two previous hearing dates, August 2013 and January 2014. We hope this is the final hearing date, April 8, 2014 at 2 p.m. at the Board of Supervisors' Chambers. 

We don't have all the information yet, but it appears that Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management Department is allowing the TNMC to submit new documents, including a supplemental Mitigated Negative Declaration. It is unclear at this time why our appeal effort, delayed for two years, now must deal with new submittals. It seems the rules of this game -- if there are any --- keep changing. We'll keep you updated.



Press Release 11/1/14

Come to the Board of Supervisors hearing to stop industrial printing factory expansion in the Cazadero hills. Appeal of PLP08-0021 Ratna Ling Retreat and Dharma Press Coming January 28, 2014 before the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors

This is an important land-use issue that will set a precedent for similarly zoned parcels in Sonoma County. Say yes to preserving our General Plan and rural coastal hills and no to unrelated and unregulated industry in our Resource and Rural Development areas. Help us stop this runaway train fueled by subterfuge and political influence.

Please take the time to learn more.

Press Release 


Subject: Residents Appeal Expansion of Printing Factory in Coastal Hills and Launch Website 

Contact: Michael Singer, 707.847.3368; Sonoma Coastal Hills Rural Preservation, 

Many residents in northwestern Sonoma County are calling for the removal of a printing factory in the wooded, rolling hills west of Cazadero. Once the subject of idyllic Ansel Adams photographs, these coastal hills now host the printing factory and publishing operations of Dharma Press, previously located for 37 years in a heavily industrial neighborhood of Berkeley. 

Sonoma County Permit and Resource Management officials originally allowed a printing operation in 2004—not to exceed one press, 27 workers, and 18,750 square feet—as an “ancillary,” or secondary function of a new religious retreat, Ratna Ling. Designated in the General Plan as a Resource and Rural Development area, unrelated industry should not be permitted here without a General Plan Amendment, followed up with the required Environmental Impact Report. Without either, by 2007 Dharma Publishing had relocated its entire manufacturing plant and sales distribution operations to the religious retreat. It has now applied for acceptance of those permit violations and approval of expansion of its printing operations to over 60,000 square feet, six presses running six days a week, non-fire code–safe tent storage for hundreds of thousands of books, and housing for 93 workers in the middle of a coastal forest. Rather than being minutes from suppliers and the Port of Oakland, Dharma Press now trucks all materials and labor to the remote forest site and trucks all products back again to the Bay Area for shipping. 

The Sonoma County Board of Zoning Adjustments recommended the expansion of Dharma Press operations in 2012 (Sonoma County Use Permit PLP08-0021). A group of residents and supporters, now over 300 strong and growing, called Sonoma Coastal Hills Rural Preservation, has appealed that recommendation to the Board of Supervisors and awaits a hearing date after repeated delays requested by the owners of Dharma Press. 

CHRP has summarized its position and provides photo documentation on a new website:


August 29, 2012: CHRP is still waiting for a hearing date with the Board of Supervisors. Serious fundraising has begun. Please see below for methods to contribute to this cause. Thank you!

June Update: Coastal Hllls Rural Preservation has filed an appeal with the Board of Supervisors and is awaiting a hearing date.


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. Sign and share this petition. 

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:

 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:

 Please also email a copy of your letter for our records to:


 We hope to 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


THE ISSUE is inappropriate land use.- A Resource and Rural Development Zone (RRD) is designated in the Sonoma County General Plan for timber production, ranching, agriculture, recreation, low density housing and the production, processing and protection of local resources.

In 2004, in an RRD zone, a use permit was approved, for Ratna Ling Retreat Center as the primary land use and Dharma Publishing's printing facility, at 18,750 sq. ft., as an ancillary (accessory) land use.  A printing press was allowed because some members of the Ratna Ling community make books as a religious practice.

 In 2007, the printing facility was expanded to 21,000 sq. ft.  In 2008, the printing operation was allowed to add 39,000 sq. ft. of additional book storage structures through a "temporary" zoning permit, without a public hearing.  The book printing, storage and distribution facility now totals 60,000 sq. ft. 

 In 2011 Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing applied for a new Use Permit to make their "temporary" zoning permit permanent.  The new use permit would make the "temporary" book storage structures permanent, remove limits on book production, triple press workers to 97 (from 27), double supply round trip truck trips to 365 (from 182), almost double residents to 122 (from 67), double worker housing and add the manufacture of non-text sacred objects.

Contrary to the purposes of an RRD Zone, the printing operation trucks in all supplies and trucks out all finished products via a 200 mile round trip to the East Bay (Oakland, CA).   

This is an issue of concern for all people who live in or love Sonoma County. 

If approved, this use permit could set a precedent, now and into the foreseeable future, allowing within RRD zones, new uses unrelated to the purposes of an RRD zone.  Once a new use is established, succeeding owners inherit the right to continue that use.  For example, if Ratna Ling Retreat Center is sold, a new owner can run a lodge but not a separate printing operation.  But, a new owner can use the vacated press building as an accessory structure for a variety of permitted uses.

Coastal Hills Rural Preservation does not oppose Ratna Ling Retreat Center as a place for meditation, reflection, contemplation and healing.

Coastal Hills Rural Preservation applauds Dharma Publishing efforts to make books available to Tibetan refugees.  They successfully carried out this mission in an industrial area of Berkeley for 30 years.

With approval of their 2004 Use Permit, Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing got everything they asked for; 27 resident members of the Ratna Ling community can make books full time, as many as 100,000 books a year to ship to Tibetan refugees.  Retreatants (guests) can volunteer in book making during their stay.   It is clear by their actions that Dharma Publishing has not been willing to abide by the very limits they established and the County accepted as an ancillary use.

BACKGROUND:  Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing are located in the heart of the rugged, coastal ridges of northwest Sonoma County, CA,  in a Resource and Rural Development Zone.

Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing are owned by the Tibetan Nyingma Meditation Center in Berkeley, CA.  Dharma Publishing is a non-profit, religious press, run by volunteers and operated successfully for 30 years in an industrial area of Berkeley, CA. 

Dharma Publishing promotes itself as the "biggest publisher of Tibetan Buddhist texts in the world", mainly through printing and distributing Tibetan texts for free to Tibetan refugees.  These texts are shipped, through the Port of Oakland to India.  By their own estimation Dharma Publishing annually produces thousands of Tibetan books, sacred art, prayer wheels, and books in English about Tibetan Buddhism.  (395,000 Tibetan books in 2009)

In 2004, Ratna Ling Retreat Center obtained a Use Permit, in Sonoma County, for a Retreat Center as the primary use, and a printing facility to be operated only as an ancillary use.  The printing operation was described as a 18,750 sq. ft. building (including storage), with 27 workers operating one press 15 hours a day and producing 100,000 books a year .  County Planning Staff advised the governing Board of Zoning Adjustments that, “The press facility would not be allowed if it is not ancillary to the primary use [the retreat center].”  Planning further defined ancillary (accessory) use as, “An accessory use must be incidental to the primary use and must not significantly change the character, appearance, or operation of the principal use of the building or property.”  In this case the primary use is the  retreat center. 

In a November 2006 letter, the Deputy Director of Planning wrote Ratna Ling  "Your use permit allows the printing press and 18,000 sf of storage space, which we consider about the limit of what is reasonable for a accessory use." 

In June 2007, six months after receiving this letter, Dharma Publishing relocated their entire printing operation (six presses) from an industrial area of Berkeley, CA  to Ratna Ling Retreat Center and subsequently added 2,000 sq. ft. to the press building. 

In 2008 Dharma Publishing obtained a "temporary" 3 year zoning permit to add 39,000 sq. ft. of book storage "tents".  These "tents" are industrial grade, climate controlled, fabric, storage structures designed to last many years and may be replaced by permanent structures.  The 21,000 sq. ft. press building and 39,000 sq. ft. of book storage now make up a 60,000 sq. ft., industrial scale, book printing, storage and distribution facility at Ratna Ling Retreat Center. 

In 2010, 170 local residents filed a Petition and a Complaint of Permit Violations with Sonoma County Planning and Code Enforcement against Ratna Ling Retreat Center and Dharma Publishing.  Ratna Ling was found to have unpermitted worker housing e.g. 10 yurts, 5 trailers, 3 cabins, toilet and shower facilities, which they were required to remove.  Dharma Publishing was found to be exceeding conditions of use including producing substantially more than 100,000 books a year.

Now, in 2012, Ratna Ling has applied for an New Use Permit to:

§  Make permanent 39,000 sq.ft. of book storage structures. 

§  Retain five printing presses and associated production equipment added to the one press operation approved in 2004.

§  Remove the present production limit of 100,000 books a year, and make the number of Press Supply Truck trips a year the only limit on production..

§  Double the number of Press Supply Truck trips to 365 (from 182)

§  Increase workers in the Press Building to 94 (from 27).

§  Construct a new dormitory for 12 and a “seasonal” campground for 24 workers. 

§  Increase resident volunteer/workers to 76 (from 27) 

§  Increase total residents to 122 (from 67).  (This figure includes 40 retreatants and 6 Buddhist senior care residents )

We ask you to join Coastal Hills Rural Preservation in preserving the rural nature of the coastal hills.  In light of the magnitude of the current printing operation and the request for further expansion that is not in keeping with the guidelines of the Sonoma County General Plan,



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