Police searching for leads in Big Sur anti-tourism vandalism

Natalie Rice Associated Press
Friday, July 19, 2019

BIG SUR, Calif. — Authorities searched Thursday for whoever painted Highway 1 with giant-size graffiti attacking the impact of tourism on Big Sur, the scenic stretch of rugged California coast that is a major destination for visitors traveling between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

It was the second instance in July that Big Sur has had to deal with anti-tourist sentiment, amid local frustrations that tourists are negatively impacting the area, which features dramatic interactions of land, sea and sky with little of the development that blankets much of the rest of the California shoreline.

The words "OVERTOURISM IS KILLING BIG SUR" were written in gold paint on Highway 1 near iconic Bixby Bridge July 14, a little over a week after a banner with the same message was hung at the location.

Authorities immediately removed the banner on July 6, but the gold paint proved more difficult and costly. The Monterey office of the California Highway Patrol said its removal on July 17 will cost taxpayers around $1,700 and that those responsible will face felony charges.

Highway 1 near Big Sur was reopened last year, 14 months after it was blocked by a massive landslide. After months without access, tourists have flooded the area. The 87-year-old Bixby Bridge is also featured in the opening credits of HBO's popular series "Big Little Lies," drawing even more visitors.

Locals in the Monterey County community have expressed their frustrations about problems they say are caused by tourists. "People disregard signs, they disregard the environment, they're just trampling all over the place," Butch Kronlund, the executive director of the Community Association of Big Sur, told the San Francisco Chronical on July 5.

"There's been an increase in negative impacts and poor visitor behavior that's being felt by the community," said John Olejnik, a Caltrans transportation planner.

An Instagram account called @bigsurhatesyou was created earlier this year to shame visitors' bad behavior in the area. It was renamed @bigsureducates and now features a link to a pledge created by locals in December. The Big Sur Pledge asks tourists to honor the land.

"The recent increase in the number of visitors is challenging the safety and wellbeing of residents, visitors and the fragile natural environment. All of us can make a positive difference to protect and nurture Big Sur," the introduction reads.

Those responsible for the vandalism in the Bixby Bridge parking lot have not been found.

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