" . . . Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon, The maker's rage to order words of the sea . . . "

-Wallace Stevens in "The Idea of Order at Key West"

For generations, America's poets, artists and photographers have tried to impose their own order on the rocks, slopes, and surf of coastlines. Now, with decisions looming on new offshore oil leases, the Interior Department has weighed in with its own vision: a $234,000 study rating the "aesthetic resources" of California's coast, on a scale of 1 to 100.

In fact, the study does more than that. In more than 300 pages of charts and photographs, lists and equations, the Granville Corp. has given Interior an inventory of every California beach and shoreline park, and figured the value of the average daily beachgoer to the local economy and the kind of recreational use people make of every section of the coast.

It estimates how many days that beachgoers, boaters and anglers use each segment of the coast, and whether they swim or surf or go scuba diving ("water contact activities") or birdwatch or ride horses or fly hang gliders or dig clams ("open beach activities") or sail or fish from boats or piers or the surf. And it estimates how many people will be boating or fishing or going to the beach in each of 49 segments of coastline every five years between 1985 and 2010.

The purpose of all of this, according to Granville executive Ted Miller and Martin F. Golden of the Pacific Outer Continental Shelf Office of Interior's Bureau of Land Management, is to have a concrete way of taking the aesthetic value and recreational use of a shoreline into account when deciding which offshore tracts to offer for lease to companies seeking new sources of oil.

"The fact that an area is rated very high is not necessarily going to mean there's not going to be any offshore oil drilling there," cautioned Golden, a GS12 marine biologist in BLM's Los Angeles office. "If it lines up with three or four other factors the effect of an oil spill on a local fishing industry, for instance then it might have an effect" on a final lease decision.

The study, Golden explained, grew out of earlier BLM efforts to quantify the aesthetic resources of public lands before deciding whether to allow mining or other resource development. But, he added, it is the first time this particular technique has been applied to a coastline.

Granville subcontractor EDAW Inc., which contributed the work of three field raters with advanced degrees in city planning or landscape architecture, traveled to each of the 166 "landscape units" along the coast (by plane, if necessary) and scored them on an "aesthetic resource rating form." Key factors were "distinctiveness" (worth a possible 35 points), "variety" (up to 10 points) and "harmony" (up to 25 points).

Less important on the rating sheet were factors such as the sounds of the streams and wildlife and the smell of the kelp or a sewage treatment plant. Such factors could account for up to a total of 30 points of an area's score.

Several areas scored perfect 100s in the view of the raters: the steep, nearly deserted northern coastline of Humboldt County west of the King Range and some offshore islands further south: Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Begg Rock and Santa Catalina. The area from Monterey Bay south to San Simeon, including the Big Sur coast, tended to score in the 80s and 90s, with the exception of an area including the Fort Ord military installation and the sand quarries south of Monterey (31).

Three other areas rated scores in the 30s, from the paper mills of Samoa near Eureka in the north (38) to the naval air station on Coronado Island in San Diego (32). San Diego's industrial port nearby wins the booby prize with a score of 18.

After doing their ratings, the Granville people then figured out how each area would look with one offshore oil drilling platform, four platforms, or onshore processing plants or supply depots. In most cases--but not all--the aesthetic ratings went down under these scenarios.

"You have to understand that these are relative scores," said BLM's Golden. "These numbers are just a crutch to get you going in the right direction. . . . It can't describe everyone's view. You get 20 different people, laymen, out there and you get 20 different views. The idea of getting landscape architects to do it is you get something close to typical."

"You can sit back and make something up or you can go in and do something systematic, and systematic ends up being quantitative," said Miller of the Granville Corp. "What score a particular part of the coast got is less important than consistency among all the scores."

So far, the study has made some of California's local governments furious and, predictably, pleased others. "Long Beach is prettier to the eye than Morro Bay," crowed the opening paragraph of one story in the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

The first use Interior will possibly make of the study will be in deciding which tracts off the southern coast will be offered up in a proposed lease sale later this year, according to spokesman Mike Fergus.