Meeting Overview

Long Beach
April 2024

The Coastal Commission meeting took place on April 10-12 in Long Beach. The Commission voted on several controversial items including approval of the American Tin Cannery Hotel in Pacific Grove and concurrence with Vandenberg Space Force Base’s proposal to increase the number of commercial space launches for SpaceX. The Commission also approved a time extension for the City of Huntington Beach’s proposed land use plan amendment for the Magnolia Tank Farm project. The meeting resulted in two vote charts, on the Vandenberg space launches and an appeal of a new residence on Beach Road in Dana Point. Other noteworthy items, including an update on the Tijuana River Valley transboundary pollution emergency, approval of coastal protection coastal armoring of a bluff failure at Casa Romantica in San Clemente and an important update from the Enforcement Department

Issues voted on at this meeting:


Other Discussions

SpaceX Launches at Vandenberg Space Force Base

On Wednesday, the Commission heard a Federal Consistency Determination by the U.S. Space Force to increase SpaceX Falcon 9 launch and landing activities at Vandenberg Space Force Base from 6 to 36 per year. This could result in up to 14 annual closures of Jalama Beach Park, marine debris, marine life impacts and an increase in greenhouse gas emissions. In 2023, the Commission approved up to 48 launches for Phantom Space Corporation at Vandenberg - indicating that cumulative impacts are possible. 

This marks a rapid increase in launches that many residents and environmental organizations are questioning, especially due to the unknown impacts to marine life. Residents in Ojai are also complaining of noise disturbances and ground acceleration on a regular basis. 

The Commission questioned whether this item would be more appropriately considered as a coastal development permit given that the majority of the launches do not contain federal equipment or act as part of a federal mission. Commissioners asked Space Force and Commission staff to reevaluate the permit authority and delayed action. This is expected to return before the Commission in the coming months. Coastal Commission staff will give an informational update at the May hearing in Crescent City.

Transboundary pollution crisis

On Wednesday, the Commission held an informational update on the U.S.-Mexico Transboundary Pollution Emergency happening at the Tijuana River Valley. During the update, staff and Commissioners commended Rep. Scott Peters for championing a recent federal appropriation of $156 million for the International Border Water Commission (IBWC) to construct and repair wastewater treatment plants. 

Commissioner Paloma Aguirre remarked that this is a step in the right direction and more funding is badly needed to solve the emergency. Presently, approximately 1 billion gallons of untreated sewage are entering the waterways per month. She declared that she continues to call for a declaration of a state of emergency and the Southern Indian Health Council is also calling for swift action. Commissioner Justin Cummings suggested connecting with the National Science Foundation or an organization who can study and monitor impacts to the marine ecosystem. 

Enforcement Report on Coastal Resource Administrative Penalty Authority Expansion

On Thursday, Commission enforcement staff presented their annual update on their expanded administrative penalty authority for matters involving coastal resource violations, under coastal resource code 30821.3.

The penalty authority was expanded under SB 433 in 2021 allows the Commission to more effectively protect sensitive resources like sand dunes and wetlands. Proceeds go to the State Coastal Conservancy’s remediation account to restore and acquire coastal sites.

The penalty authority is designed to incentivize quick resolution of violations and provides for penalty waivers for quick resolution. The penalty allows for up to $11,250 per day per violation, levied by a majority vote of the Commission.

In 2023, Commission staff opened 110 coastal resource violation cases. These include shoreline armoring, water quality, harm to wetlands, vegetation removal, cultural resources and marine life and sensitive habitat impacts. Many violations include more than one issue. Commission staff fully resolved 1 case, secured agreements on 11 cases and 40 others are in active negotiation. Staff noted that many cases remain open due to the long term nature of restoration work and monitoring. Staff noted that 24 cases have not progressed due to capacity. The Commission formally assessed penalties only one time in 2023, against the Rio Del Mar Beach Island HOA for $1.9 million for access and resource impacts. 

The Commission's ability to enforce the Coastal Act is an essential function of the agency and the ability to levy administrative fines makes it possible. Protecting natural resources is not only important to California’s ecosystems and economy but also protects the built and natural environment from the effects of climate change and sea level rise. 

VIce Chair Linda Escalante commended staff on the remarkable progress and Commissioners collectively supported the call for additional staff resources and state funding for the Enforcement Division.

Beach Road Appeal in Dana Point

The Commission found ‘Substantial Issue’ with a Dana Point permit to demolish an 825 sq. ft. house to construct a new 3,552 sq.ft house on a beachfront lot on Beach Road in Dana Point. The City’s permit would allow new development to rely on shoreline armoring in a location subject to coastal hazards. The local permit is fundamentally inconsistent with the Coastal Act. 

The lot is subject to coastal hazards at present day and the access road will be subject to severe hazards in the coming decades. We should not be constructing new development in hazardous locations, especially when it will rely on shoreline armoring, which makes erosion worse and drowns public beaches.