I spent a good part of my time in college, much to my father’s dismay, in the theater. There I rose from a lowly follow-spot operator to a full-fledged lighting designer, in demand by my classmates for their senior drama honors projects. I even considered a career in lighting design, until I found out just how itinerant a lifestyle technical theater demands.
Of all the theatrical arts, lighting is by far the least noticed. Actors, costumes, and sets are all right there for the audience to see and hear, but lighting is generally invisible. It was a truism among my colleagues that “no one notices the lights unless we screw up.” Stop and think about the last movie or play you saw. Do you remember anything about the lighting? Of course not.
Yet lighting is an essential discipline, and not just because without it the audience would see nothing. On the stage lighting is an actor: It moves and communicates emotions--revealing and concealing, creating and releasing dramatic tension. Almost every play, and certainly every movie, starts when the lights dim and ends when they come up again. Lighting is just about as old as theater; the Romans shined candlelight through glass globes filled with colored water to light their stages at night.
Despite my love of the craft, I ultimately decided to forgo getting a master of fine arts in lighting design. Instead I moved to California in 1983 to pursue other dreams. Ironically, I am once again in a business that no one notices unless we screw up. Most Californians are blissfully unaware of how our magnificent system of coastal parks, open spaces, accessways, and trails came to be, and what our coast would look like if the Coastal Conservancy and the Coastal Commission and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission didn’t exist.
This is especially true for our comrades-in-arms at the Coastal Commission and BCDC. Their successes are more often than not invisible, in projects that don’t get built, or houses that are built out of sight, or hotels that aren’t as big as originally planned, or public amenities that quickly seem as if they’d always been there. At the Coastal Conservancy we have the satisfaction of being able to do things. We buy land, or build a trail, or reconstruct a wetland. My colleagues at the regulatory agencies mostly get to stop bad things from happening, and the public usually only notices when they fail.
Ever wonder what our coastline would look like if there were no Coastal Commssion or BCDC? You need to look no further than “Baja California Land Rush” in this issue of Coast & Ocean to find out what a coastal real estate boom without a strong regulatory system looks like. Author Serge Dedina vividly describes the frenzy of development taking place in Baja California without most of the protections and processes we in California have long taken for granted. Hopefully Baja California Norte and Sur will choose a more sustainable path than Cancún, but the jury is still out. We in the Golden State have a big stake in Baja California’s development. Their environmental problems have a way of washing ashore on our beaches, and southern California is really the northern end of the range for a lot of plants and animals that call Baja home.
Later this year, Coast & Ocean will report on the latest happenings at Hearst Ranch. Although the focus now is on the next steps after public acquisition, the acquisition itself probably would not have happened without the Coastal Commission. If the Commission hadn’t turned down the Hearst Corporation’s development proposal for San Simeon in 1998, the company would probably not have sought a conservation deal in 2004. The fact is that Californians are lucky to have a strong regulatory system for their coast, one that is the envy of and frequently a model for the rest of the world.
So the next time you are walking along a California beach at sunset, admiring the golden light of the setting sun, stop and think about all the things that could have gone wrong and kept you off the beach, or even destroyed it. There is a story behind every beach and every trail and every park, and it often involves a lot of people who only get noticed when they fail in their jobs.
Sam Schuchat is the executive officer of the Coastal Conservancy.