I grew up at the California coast. At an early age I swam and body surfed at public beaches. As I grew older I graduated to a
surfboard and later SCUBA. In the late 1970s I explored the California
coastline in my Volkswagen. During
that time my friends and I searched for new spots to surf and dive, locations off the beaten path, or prime
beaches blocked by private property.
We frequently encountered barriers, crossing barbed wire fences, taking
railroad tracks to steep bluffs or faced the wrath of “locals” who laid claim
to a gate blocking access to the shoreline. Today, these locked beaches and inaccessible shorelines are
remarkably fewer on our coastline thanks to the California Coastal Act of
1976. This Act, which also
permanently established the California Coastal Commission voter initiative in
1972 (Proposition 20) established policies and review of human impacts that
would deny access or degrade the quality of the California Coastline. During the period of the Coastal Commission,
thousands of challenges have been made with nearly two thousand lawsuits filed. A few monstrosities have slipped past
including one violator who carved miles of road in the Santa Monica watershed,
yet countless unsuitable development projects have been stopped, and hundreds
of more miles of shoreline have been made available to the public. In all, the
Commission has done a good job protecting our coastline from unsuitable
development, coastal oil drilling
and even harmful fisheries. However,
the Commission has had difficulty enforcing against violators to the
Over the history of the Commission there have been continued assaults by developers and those with personal interests to undermine the Act. Lawsuits have piled up over the years and the Commission has received censure for their backlog of violations requiring enforcement or resolution. The California Coastal Commission currently has over eighteen hundred open enforcement cases. This lead to recently proposed legislation introduced by Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, to increase the Commission’s ability to enforce against violations. According to Ms. Levine, (D San Diego) the Bill, AB 976 would give the Coastal Commission the tools it needs to protect public access to the coast and prevent degradation and damage to our ocean waters, beaches, wetlands, and wildlife. Developers have strongly opposed this, and four other past bills that would give the Commission more power to enforce against violators.
AB 976 would cap fines at three-quarters of the amount that can be sought through the courts and could only be imposed by a vote of the Commission at a publicly noticed meeting and in compliance with the Administrative Procedures Act. Fines could also be challenged in court after they are imposed.
Last month, with the assistance of Assemblymember Marc Levine (D-San Rafael), California lawmakers have rejected an attempt to give the California Coastal Commission the authority to impose fines on those who violate coastal protection laws.
Levine abstained on the final vote for AB 976 because he considered that amendments to the Bill would bypass Commission staff to allow back-room talks with commissioners before their case is decided at a public meeting of the full commission.
This week, Mr. Levine hosted a meeting titled Protecting California's Coast that included three expert panels and public comment. Panelists included Coastal Commissioner and Marin Supervisor Steve Kinsey and Coastal Commission executive director Charles Lester. At the hearing Levine listened to lawyers who are currently involved in suits against the commission and public comment, overwhelmingly in support of giving the Commission more authority to enforce violators. It is unclear what affect this discussion had on Mr. Levine or how it will influence new legislation in 2014.
There is a reason our state has maintained large tracts of agricultural space near the coastline, our public access to beautiful beaches and a general lack of theme parks and exclusive communities along the shoreline. The mission of the Coastal Commission is to protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.
As citizens we need to fight for the right to access our coastlines and support enforcement against violators exploiting public lands. We call on Mr. Levine and our legislator’s to support the Coastal Commission ability to enforce violators to the Act and prohibit back room deals that limit public rights to our coast and ocean.