April 2021 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
May 21, 2021
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April Hearing Description

The April Coastal Commission took place on Wednesday, April 14 through Friday, April 16 with a special meeting on Thursday, April 22. Key Commission approvals from this series of meetings include the City of Ventura’s proposed Coastal Development Permit (CDP) for phase 2 of the Surfer’s Point Managed Retreat project, the City of Half Moon Bay’s proposed land use plan update and the National Park Service’s 2020 General Management Plan Amendment for Point Reyes National Seashore – a plan that drew tens of thousands of written comments and hundreds of speakers.

Surfer’s Point Phase II CDP

The City of Ventura applied to the Coastal Commission for Phase II of the Surfer’s Point Managed Retreat Project. The CDP amendment consists of partial realignment of Shoreline Drive and the public parking lot. The overflow parking lot was also proposed to be reconfigured and the surface material of the parking lot was proposed to be changed from a permeable surface to asphalt. The project also proposed modifications to the tidelands portions of the originally approved managed retreat project, including the extension of the cobble berm and vegetated sand dunes, designed to further minimize erosion.

Commissioners Shelley Luce, Matt O'Malley, Mike Wilson, Mark Gold and Donne Brownsey raised concerns about the change of surface material of the parking lot, citing concerns over potential water quality impacts from runoff and uncertainty around mitigation of those impacts. Based on these concerns, Commission staff agreed to incorporate a Storm Water Management Plan (SWMP) and require water quality monitoring into the permit. The permit was approved unanimously.

Although the Surfers Point Managed Shoreline Retreat Project has been widely recognized as an innovative and effective approach to coastal management, the fact that it has been 30 years in the making serves as an example of the challenges of coordinating a multitude of federal, state, and local agencies with conflicting mandates. It is difficult to quantify the benefits lost to decades of crumbling infrastructure and mismanagement at this location at what should have been the crown jewel of the City of Ventura for the past decades. We look forward to watching the restoration project advance as the ocean slowly erases the mistakes of the past. For more information, check out the Ventura River Ecosystem blog.

Santa Monica - Members Only

Also on Wednesday, Commissioners heard from an applicant desiring to open a private, membership-only facility directly across the street from Santa Monica State Beach within the City’s designated zone for visitor-serving uses. Commission staff included a condition requiring the applicant to submit a statement of non-discrimination, but the membership model directly excludes non-paying members, thus raising public access and environmental justice concerns. The applicant proposed to address this inequity by providing an informal option enabling some individuals to provide “in-kind” payments such as contributing a skill (i.e., singing monthly at the restaurant) instead of paying the membership fee.

Given the subjective and vague – and therefore unenforceable – nature of that informal option, however, opponents viewed it as unlikely to reduce environmental justice concerns or enhance public access to any significant degree. Indeed, a membership-only club is economically exclusionary by its very nature and risks perpetuating systemic injustices.

Similarly, the applicant also proposed to expand the access of his facility by allowing chosen nonprofits to use the space for free, but is yet another unregulated, subjective promise that, at best, could create a tier of privileged vs non-privileged non-profits.

Opponents, including Surfrider Foundation and Unite Here, asked the Commission to either deny this application and require the applicant to restructure the business plan to a non-membership based model that will be clearly accessible and affordable to all – or require additional public access requirements or in-lieu mitigation fees in the CDP to enhance public benefit from the proposed facility.

Commissioners unanimously approved the project, however, with Commissioner Dayna Bochco calling the discussion “very interesting” but saying she did not feel asking for a different business model to be within the Commission’s purview, rejecting the notion that it was a public access issue. Commissioner Donne Brownsey agreed, saying,“Does this violate the Coastal Act? And I think that the staff analysis made a good case that it does not.”

City of Half Moon Bay LUP Update

On Thursday, the Coastal Commission approved the City of Half Moon Bay’s proposed Land Use Plan (LUP) update – which serves as a complete overhaul and replacement LUP. The LUP would preserve existing agricultural open space, restore ESHA, add a new environmental justice policy, improve coastal access opportunities and include significant policy direction on coastal hazards. The LUP focuses on non-armoring alternatives to ensure beaches and shoreline are safe from sea level rise. The Surfrider Foundation San Mateo County Chapter supported many of the LUP’s policies and called for the inclusion of several additional important coastal hazard policies:

  • The LUP should include strong and unambiguous definitions of existing development and redevelopment to prevent individual interests from skirting around policies that protect public assets.
  • The LUP should include a policy that prohibits shoreline armoring of the California Coastal Trail, which runs along most of the City’s coastline.
  • The LUP should include clear policies on temporary and emergency permitting.

As with past LUP updates on coastal hazards, Coastal Commission staff took the position that the definition of existing development and redevelopment were not necessary elements, conceding that this position is a means of compromise with local jurisdictions as it would clearly define which properties are entitled to shoreline armoring – pre-Coastal Act structures. Local jurisdictions face considerable pressure from private property owners and organized groups including Smart Coast California, who push for the right to armor private properties and exacerbate erosion of the public coast, despite sea level rise and the prospect of unmanaged retreat.

Commissioner Matt O’Malley questioned staff on the possibility of including a prohibition of shoreline armoring of the California Coastal Trail. The Trail runs along the majority of the City of Half Moon Bay’s coastline and is the biggest opportunity for shoreline armoring. The City stated at the hearing that they intend to avoid armoring the Trail to the extent feasible and this satisfied Commissioner concerns. The Commission unanimously approved the LUP update without modification.