August 2021 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
October 11, 2021
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August Coastal Commission Report

The Coastal Commission’s August meeting took place virtually from Wednesday, August 11 through Friday, August 13. The meeting featured a full agenda with several important local coastal program updates. The Commission approved the City of Morro Bay comprehensive land use plan (LUP) update and received an informational update regarding the Marin County’s local coastal program (LCP) update and the delayed coastal hazards update. Orange County Parks also gave an informational update regarding Capistrano Beach and the nature based alternatives analysis recently completed to assess options for addressing ongoing erosion issues. The meeting resulted in one vote chart.

Morro Bay LCP Update

On Thursday, the Coastal Commission enthusiastically approved the City of Morro Bay’s comprehensive LUP update. The update was several years in the making and was approved with complete concurrence between Commission and City staff. Surfrider Foundation supported the City’s coastal hazard policies. Many of the City’s policies, particularly on coastal access and hazards, should serve as a model for other jurisdictions moving forward.

Several noteworthy policies include:

  • Protection of oceanfront lands for public recreational use.
  • Relocation of the wastewater treatment plant away from the immediate shoreline and development of a recreational and visitor serving use of the site.
  • Open space policies specifically identify options to relocate portions of parks and open spaces susceptible to sea level rise impacts, and seek funding to implement the identified adaptation strategies.
  • Public safety policies call for preservation of the shoreline as a natural living shoreline
  • Define existing development as development constructed before the implementation of the California Coastal Act on January 1, 1977.
  • Improve environmental justice by improving the accessibility of public spaces

Moving forward, Surfrider urges the City and Coastal Commission to build upon these policies by including the following specific implementation actions that will prohibit shoreline armoring of coastal trails and develop clear policies on temporary and emergency permitting. As sea levels rise and coastal hazards increase, California will face urgent and emergency shoreline management issues. Despite even the best of intentions and permitting conditions, emergency seawalls and revetments are almost never removed once established.

Commissioner Brownsey commented that this LUP serves as a great model for the entire state, especially with regard to the sea level rise planning. She noted that we have to be realistic and take sea level rise planning seriously and pointed to the recent findings and information in the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report. The Commission unanimously approved the LCP update. This vote resulted in a vote chart.

Marin LCP Update

In contrast to the progress at Morro Bay, Marin County and Coastal Commission staff presented an informational update regarding Marin County’s LCP. Last month, the Marin County Board of Supervisors finalized their LCP update without including updates to their coastal hazard and sea level rise planning policies.

The Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (EAC) and the Surfrider Foundation (Surfrider) disagree with the County’s approach to retain outdated hazards policies in the face of the climate emergency when coastal Marin faces several threats including rising sea levels, emergent groundwater, and wildfire risks. The County has delayed completing the hazards chapter three times since 2014.

Delays in updating environmental hazards, including provisions to adapt to sea level rise and wildfire, will set a negative precedent in the state for other jurisdictions to ignore planning for the impacts of the climate crisis.

Following public comment, Marin County and Coastal Commission staff reconfirmed their commitment to focus on completing Marin County’s environmental hazards chapter. Mr. Carl confirmed the Commission procedures and stated the hazards update is “critical.” Commissioner and Marin County Supervisor Katie Rice stated the importance of all counties having updated environmental hazards provisions in light of the global climate crisis. She also confirmed Marin County’s commitment to bring something forward to the Commission in early 2022, which she stated hopefully will be a “model.”

For more information and a full account of the hearing, see EAC’s full blog post!

Capistrano Beach - Nature Based Solutions Update

On Friday, Orange County Parks (OC Parks) presented an alternatives analysis report for a living shoreline pilot project at Capistrano Beach. The County’s preferred option would be constructed over the northern portion of the beach. It does not include any managed retreat or address the issues with the parking lot (over which Surfrider has been raising concerns for years) but it may help protect the bike path.

The preferred options would not address ongoing safety and erosion issues with the parking lot. It also leaves the seawall and degrading sand cubes in place. Surfrider stated a preference for the alternative that at least provides partial retreat of the parking lot; however, ideally the entire park would be addressed as soon as possible given the urgency of the erosion at this location.

Surfrider Foundation’s South Orange County chapter regularly monitors Capistrano Beach and provided video footage from June 2021 where high tides and a summer swell lead to overtopping of the parking lot and adjacent residences. Frequent similar events cause damage to the sidewalk and parking lot exposing buried debris. Surfrider implored the County to avoid the same emergency-based approach over the last decade and instead implement a long-term solution of managed retreat and natural, living shoreline.

Notably, a recent LA Times article, Can Reviving Beach Dunes Help California With Sea Level Rise, highlights the amazing biodiversity that once thrived on California’s beaches. Our response to sea level rise brings an opportunity to restore these habitats that once thrived with life. We must look for opportunities to restore California’s coast for coastal access as well as important habitat!