By Mandy Sackett | Published 2018/10/23
September Hearing Report
The California Coastal Commission met at the Fort Bragg Town Hall in Fort Bragg Wednesday, Sept. 12 through Friday, Sept.14. While not as packed with items as the previous month’s hearing, the agenda did feature several important informational items and an enforcement order. The informational items included the release of a draft Environmental Justice Policy, an update to the Commission’s Sea Level Rise Guidance and a presentation by non-profit groups on barriers to coastal access. The meeting resulted in one vote chart, the Cease and Desist Orders for unpermitted development in the Santa Monica Mountains.
Navy 5-Year Military Readiness Training and Testing Program Activities
On June 6, 2018, the Commission objected to the Navy’s Navy’s 5-Year Military Readiness Training and Testing Program Activities in the California portion of the Hawaii-Southern California Training and Testing Study Area. The Coastal Commission identified measures for compliance with the Coastal Act, including:
Establish larger shutdown areas (up to 2 km) (i.e., shut down if a marine mammal or sea turtle is detected within 2 km of the mid-frequency sonar source); Prohibit use of mid-frequency sonar and in-water explosives in sensitive areas; Reduce sound intensity under low-visibility conditions; Limit typical vessel speeds in sensitive areas to 10 knots Improve observer effectiveness through the use of NMFS-certified marine mammal observers.
At the September hearing, the Coastal Commission heard a Consistency Determination Status on the Navy’s Program Activities. The Navy’s Consistency Determination Status report letter was presented at the September hearing. The Navy’s letter indicates it can avoid training in all of the Marine Protected Areas the Commission requested be protected. Additionally, the Navy agreed to avoid activities in two additional blue whale Biologically Important Areas (BIA) in addition to the currently proposed San Diego Arc BIA. The Navy also expressed willingness to further conduct research in some of the areas recommended by the Natural Resources Defense Council, such as thermal monitoring and beaked whale habitats, as well as, possibly, alternative sonar signals.
Coastal Commission staff plan to write a letter in response to the Navy and identify outstanding issues of concern, including improvements to marine mammal observer activities.
Environmental Justice Policy
In 2016, the California Coastal Commission gained the authority through the passage of AB 2616 to specifically consider environmental justice when making permit decisions. Coastal Commission staff presented a draft Environmental Justice Policy to lay the groundwork for implementation of the new law.
Environmental Justice groups have a long history of fighting marginalization and struggling for basic rights like clean water and air. The Policy identifies specific actions that can be taken to include those groups and the voices of underserved and disadvantaged communities in permitting and planning decisions. Certainly, the Coastal Act’s vision of access for all people has not been fully realized.
The Coastal Commission conducted initial outreach with environmental justice groups and gained the following feedback, according to the Coastal Commission’s staff report, “The most frequently cited request was for the Commission to do more community outreach and engagement, alert groups about important upcoming agenda items and explain how their communities might be affected and what they could do. Other key requests included the agency making their meetings more accessible and user-friendly, and working to establish better relationships with tribes.” To that end, Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh pointed out that one primary obstacle seems to be that meetings occur during the working day and that actually getting environmental justice communities to the meetings will be key to the success of this policy.
There will be additional informatiational updates and opportunity for public comment on the Environmental Justice policy at the Coastal Commission’s October and November hearings in San Diego and North Central Coast, respectively.
Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance Update
Coastal Commission staff presented a briefing on recommended updates to the Sea Level Rise Policy Guidance to reflect new information and recommendations on sea level rise science from the Ocean Protection Council (OPC). In 2017, a working group of OPC’s Science Advisory team released Rising Seas in California: An Update on Sea Level Rise Science. The report provides a summary of the scientific updates as well as recently published research that expands our understanding of ice sheet dynamics.
Notably, the Update includes the OPC’s recommended projection scenarios for planning and permitting: Low risk aversion scenario: may be used for projects that would have limited consequences or a higher ability to adapt. Medium-high risk aversion scenario; should be used for projects with greater consequences and/or a lower ability to adapt. Extreme risk aversion (H++): should be used for projects with little to no adaptive capacity that would be irreversibly destroyed or significantly costly to repair, and/or would have considerable public health, public safety, or environmental impacts should that level of sea level rise occur.
The Coastal Commission will consider adoption at a future meeting. Comments are due on October 14, 2018.
Barriers to Coastal Access
The Coastal Commission heard an informational item on barriers to coastal access that affect nonprofits across the state who are providing beach recreation services for underserved and low-income communities. A panel of nonprofit groups that operate day- or week-long camp programs to beaches from a variety of locations, including San Diego and Bay Area, presented information about what their programs do, how they advance environmental justice goals and the permitting challenges they face with local and state agencies. City Surf Project, Brown Girl Surf, Outdoor Outreach, Surfrider Foundation, City of Imperial Beach and the State Coastal Conservancy were among the organizations represented in the panel.
A major barrier to access identified includes high permit fees, which are based on commercial surf school programs. Additionally, an exclusionary permit system favors commercial surf schools at many beach parks and the application process is very time consuming. The State Coastal Conservancy conducted research to assess fee schemes in 65 beaches managed by either State Parks, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, county or city. They found permit fees range from $90 to $140, on average for one day.
The Coastal Conservancy report found several additional challenges to permitting for nonprofit groups including; information was not readily available, nonprofit programs are not always approved and permit availability varied by season. Best practices included City of Imperial Beach and Santa Monica Beach. The City of Imperial Beach eliminated fees for programs for disadvantaged kids and is exploring the idea of a free beach bus.
The panel’s message was clear: the state lacks a framework for supporting efforts of nonprofits to enhance access to California’s beaches for low-income and underserved communities.