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Protecting the California Coast, the Coastal Commission and Local Politics

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 Act.

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. 

 

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Brian Ginna November 10, 2013 at 10:57 AM
Pure rhetoric, beginning with the "I grew up here, so I know what is best for everyone" tone. Courts exist as a very important balance against unchecked power at the hands of unelected commissioners. Sorry, but no thanks. My property is more important that your right to do what you want at will.
Michael November 11, 2013 at 07:34 PM
without the Coastal commission and the California Coastal Act of 1976 which backs it we would probably have a lot less coastline to enjoy as citizens. Greedy people exist everywhere. Some people who by whatever means secure huge sums of money believe that they can then buy the coastline and tell everyone else to stay out. I believe that this is flat our wrong. Some things on this planet (like access to the one and only CA coastline we have) should not sellable to anyone. Period. Sorry but some things are for us all to enjoy regardless of how well we play the financial game (or inherit the money). I wonder who Marc Levine is working for or representing here because he is not representing my interests. Why would he not want the Coastal Commission to be able to levy fines to those that violate the coastal law? I want them to do exactly this (levy fines). Is our dysfunctional legislature doing the policing here? Of course the answer is no. And hey Marc Levine at least take a firm stand on your position and stop playing both sides of the political fence by abstaining from the final voting. We do not need wishy-washy politicians like this. We must be diligent in protecting our coast because there are those who want to own it all for themselves and those who want to destroy it. Greed runs rampant in our financially driven society.

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