December 2021 Hearing Report
December Coastal Commission Report
The Coastal Commission’s December meeting took place December 15 - 17 and featured a jam-packed agenda. Key issues included several votes involving shoreline armoring in Pismo Beach, Solana Beach and San Pedro, as well as the Santa Cruz Rail Trail and the Farallon Islands Invasive House Mouse Eradication Project. The Commission also adopted the Local Government Working Group’s 2021 Work Plan for sea level rise adaptation. The meeting resulted in two vote charts regarding the Santa Cruz Rail Trail and one regarding shoreline armoring in San Pedro. Notably, the Coastal Commission held an election on Wednesday morning and Commissioner Donne Brownsey was elected to the Chair position and Caryl Hart was elected Vice Chair.
Sea Level Rise Adaptation and Local Government Working Group
On Wednesday morning, the Coastal Commission adopted the Local Government Working Group’s 2021 Work Plan for updating local coastal programs to address sea level rise. Following the July 2019 Local Government Workshop, a Local Government Working Group was formed. Throughout two years of collaboration, the group developed several work products, including a framework for a phased approach to LCP updates; a call for regional approaches to vulnerability assessments and adaptation plans; an elevation and concurrence process; and a reference document of policies that are useful for SLR planning.
At the December meeting, local government groups on behalf of CSAC and Cal Cities spoke in support of adopting the work products and expressed interest in collaboratively tackling the pressing issues facing the California Coast. Commissioners Mike Wilson and Carole Groom were members of the working group both supporting the work products and noted that this was the beginning of a better working relationship between the Commission and local governments. Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh noted that she hopes this will serve as a starting point to raise the bar on what we can do to protect communities from sea level rise and coastal dependent economies.
The efforts of this group address the very difficult, very immediate issues that we are all working through when it comes to preparing the coast for at least a foot of sea level rise by 2050, and exponential rise after that. Surfrider highlighted the importance of having someone representing the Commission asLCP updates are discussed at the local level. This would help to avoid polarization that we see when Commission-related guidance is only considered after local decisions have become resolute.
Santa Cruz Rail Trail
On Thursday, the Coastal Commission approved a consistency determination for a proposed 7.5 mile multi-use pedestrian to run from Wilder Ranch State Park to Davenport in Santa Cruz County. The project is proposed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) and Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) to run along the railroad corridor. The project was broady supported by local agencies and the general public.
The staff recommendation included two controversial conditions to the proposed project; those included a prohibition on shoreline armoring for the trail and for unrestricted 24 hour access to the trail. During the hearing, the applicants convinced the Commission that a seawall was necessary for a portion of the trail in Davenport so that condition was removed and replaced with language encouraging analysis for a long term plan to remove the armoring if possible in the future. Commissioner Shelley Luce agreed with Surfrider’s concerns that if we put a hard structure on the beach to armor access to or along the beach we may ironically lose the beach we are trying to protect and maintain access to. Vice Chair Caryl Hart championed the notion that the applicant’s seawall proposal seems like an ok exception as there “are likely impacts for other alternatives.” Chair Donne Brownsey agreed and helped incorporate and rewrite the staff recommendation from the dias to allow for shoreline armoring.
In a series of votes, the Commission upheld the unrestricted access condition of the staff recommendation despite opposition from the applicants and community members who insist that public access to the coastal trail will increase crime at night. The Commission encouraged crime to be dealt with as such and noted this could be revisited if there are any issues. This item resulted in extensive deliberations and two vote charts - one for the vote on the seawall change in conditions and one for the vote on unlimited access. Both votes were motioned by Commissioner Caryl Hart and seconded by Carole Groom.
San Pedro Seawalls
On Wednesday, the Coastal Commission approved two new 4,000 sq. ft + blufftop homes in San Pedro on two separate lots. The new homes would rely on caisson foundations, drilled 70 feet into the bluff bedrock to achieve the 1.5 factor of safety required in the City of Los Angeles’ Local Coastal Program. In the past, the Commission has found caissons inconsistent with the Coastal Act’s policies to avoid shoreline armoring and bluff armoring. The findings cannot guarantee that the caissons will not become exposed and act as a form of shoreline armoring throughout the life of the project( 75-100 years.) Due to limited lot size and ancient landslide prone bluffs, Coastal Commission staff recommended approval with a special condition that no future shoreline armoring is allowed along the bluff. A number of community members spoke in opposition to the project due to community character concerns. Surfrider opposed the caisson foundations.
Commissioner Dayna Bochco motioned to approve the blufftop developments and the motion seconded by Sara Aminzadeh before Commissioner discussion. The proposed developments were approved 7-2 over several votes.
The Commission approved the US Fish and Wildlife’s plan to eradicate invasive mice from the South Farallon Islands. Five Commissioners begrudgingly approved the plan after hours of extensive discussion of alternatives. Caryl Hart, Roberto Uranga and Groom all cast dissenting votes. “Human beings created this problem and now I think we have a responsibility to make an incredibly tough decision to fix it,” said Chair Brownsey. Commissioner Mark Gold, who was present as a non-voting ex officio member, heavily questioned the USFW on their monitoring and mitigation efforts and called the adjusted plan to lay bait landward of the extreme high water mark “critical.”