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Welcome to ActCoastal, the California Coast Accountability Project. ActCoastal is a campaign to protect California’s coast by bringing transparency and accountability to the actions of the California Coastal Commission.

Recommended reading: The Verde Paper – Latino Perspectives on Conservation Leadership

October Coastal Commission Hearing: an overview

While the October Coastal Commission meeting lacked the fireworks of the past few months, lasting a mere day-and-a-half instead of the usual three and prompting no vote chart items, interesting ground was nonetheless covered. Notably, the passage of AB2616, a bill by Assemblymember Autumn Burke requiring environmental justice to be considered in Commissioner appointments and project evaluation, as well as updates on the public access program and Executive Director hiring process.

AB 2616

This legislation intends to provide racially diverse, low-income communities greater consideration on issues that come before the Commission by requiring that one of the members appointed to the Coastal Commission by the governor work directly with those constituents and cross-referencing state civil rights protections and environmental justice definitions into the Coastal Act, formally authorizing the Commission and local governments to consider environmental justice when implementing the Act. Now that the bill has been signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown, the next step is determining how best to implement it, which staff is currently examining. The governor’s environmental justice appointment must occur no later than the fourth appointment after Jan. 1, 2017.

Public Access Report

A comprehensive overview of the Commission’s Public Access Program by Program Manager Linda Locklin included a look at vertical accessways (stairs), other easements, the California Coastal Trail and prescriptive rights. The report found that specific threats to access include:

  • Sea Level Rise and shoreline armoring
  • Exclusionary parking programs
  • Encroachments such as “No Parking” signs, security guards, landscaping in public right-of-ways and other ways adjacent landowners employ to discourage public
  • Poor water quality and beach closures (“People don’t like to go to dirty beaches.”)
  • Parking fees and park closures

Locklin highlighted ways the Commission promotes public access through signage, the website, California Coastal Trail promotional videos, various access guides and a list of Beach Wheelchair locations on the Commission’s website. Additionally, Locklin said, the Commission sometimes works with area nonprofits to acquire, manage and promote greater public access.

Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders noted that public access is essentially the “meat and potatoes” of the Commission’s work and one of the main reasons the Coastal Act was enacted. “It’s really important,” she said, beyond the simple physical ability to reach the beach. Some areas have a long history of “de facto segregation” and as a result of such, many California families don’t have the same traditions of visiting the beach as others. Toward the shared goal of promoting public access for all Californians, she asked, “Can we do a little more partnerships with nonprofit organizations or have staff go out to places where people congregate?”

To that end, Interim Executive Director Jack Ainsworth committed to report back on potential partnerships. The public can expect to hear more at the November meeting in Half Moon Bay.

Executive Director Hiring Process

Pam Derby from CPS HR, the recruitment firm hired to facilitate the Executive Director search process, reported that the public survey on the Commission’s website has prompted over 600 responses so far. that the firm held a statewide call with all Coastal Commission staff and that direct correspondence from the public regarding the Executive Director (ED) hiring process has been received.

Derby said that three areas of concern rose to the top consistently:

  • The need to indicate in recruitment materials that the ED role’s is primarily to uphold the Coastal Act and all applicable regulations.
  • That the ED is responsible to oversee performance, evaluation and professional evaluation of a diverse staff.
  • “Customer service” was taken to mean to serving the development community; as a result that wording has been excluded from the final recruitment materials.

Commissioner Alternate Maricela Morales noted that the “customer service” language implied that the profit-driven model is more legitimate than public service and said she was happy to see it eliminated. She also pointed out that given the passage of AB 2616, knowledge of and commitment to environmental justice assumes new importance.

Turnbull-Sanders recognized the concerns of “the public and interested parties” to make sure that Coastal Act is upheld and offered thanks including what she termed “strong language” – but also referenced prior discussions about “casting as broad a net as possible.” She would prefer to narrow the field during the interview process, not before. “Very few people have working knowledge of Coastal Act,” she continued, and she believes that historically those people who do have such working knowledge have been involved and represented in Coastal Commission processes. By the same reasoning, the need for an “advanced” degree would potentially prevent qualified candidates from applying.

The Commissioners agreed to accept the updated language as-is and asked the recruiters to include language regarding applicants’ knowledge of and commitment to environmental justice. The position description, survey and related documents can be viewed on the Commission’s website.

Executive Director Hiring Process Timeline

  • Survey will remain active throughout entire search process
  • Every Commission meeting will include ED search process as a standing item with a status report
  • Public can access information via a special tab on website
  • November and December meetings will have written updates, presentations
  • Dec 5, 2017: cutoff for review of applications for January (position open until filled)
  • January status report in closed session to discuss actual candidates

Local Coastal Program Amendments for Coastal Protection

The California Coastal Commission and staff evaluated several Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendments at the October meeting, reminding us of the importance of these planning documents. LCPs are envisioned as the primary means of implementing the Coastal Act in most terrestrial parts of the coastal zone. A strong, comprehensive LCP addresses sea level rise, public access to the coast, recreational opportunities, and protects sensitive habitat as key parts of effective Coastal Act implementation. Ideally, an approved LCP at the local level allows Coastal Commission staff more time to address larger projects with statewide implications as smaller projects are handled by area jurisdictions .

LCP amendments frequently come before the Coastal Commission for the purposes of rezoning, land use changes, and language modification. This month, through agenda item Th15a, the City of San Diego clarified one aspect of an approved LCP amendment from January, 2016 that changes regulations for blufftop development. Notably, the amendment reinforces the requirement that previously conforming rights of a blufftop structure are terminated when more than 50 percent of the structure’s exterior walls, or vertical or lateral load-bearing systems, are demolished. The amendment also added language to include cumulative changes.

The amendment came back to the Commission this month to clarify that the burden of proof of the 50 percent demolition requirement lies with the applicant, otherwise it is assumed to be true. This is significant because if property owners choose extensive reconstruction of a structure, previously conforming rights no longer apply. Therefore, new shoreline protection devices (seawalls, for example) are disallowed and proposed projects are subject to additional requirements such as setbacks, coastal access, sensitive area protection and more.

The November Coastal Commission hearing will be held in Half Moon Bay, November 2nd-4th. You can view the agenda here.

ActCoastal Blog

September Hearing Update14 October 2016
August Coastal Commission Report3 October 2016
Public Access and Parking: a complicated relationship25 July 2016
July Coastal Commission Hearing20 July 2016
Diverse Coalition Requests Legislature Fund Coastal, Ocean, and Public Access Protection1 July 2016
... further results