February 2023 Hearing Report
The February Coastal Commission meeting took place virtually over Zoom. On Wednesday, incoming executive director, Dr. Kate Huckelbridge, reported on the 2022 Year in Review report and a summary of the emergency response to the devastation storms in January. The agenda was on the lighter side but featured several important votes regarding coastal preservation and public access. Del Mar was granted an annual free parking for qualified low-income individuals, implement an associated outreach program, and allow after-the-fact fee waivers for ticketed individuals who are eligible for free parking. The Commission also approved two seawalls in Pismo Beach and Muir Beach, these resulted in two vote charts.
The devastating and deadly coastal storms in January resulted in 12 emergency coastal development permits, 6 of which are seawalls, according to the Executive Director’s February report. There are at least 16 more emergency permits still pending and an unknown number of unreported local government emergency actions such as the riprap placed along West Cliff drive in Santa Cruz.
Emergency permits are considered temporary and applicants must apply for a coastal development permit for any development that is not removed within the time specified (usually 6 to 12 months). Emergency development is notoriously left in place without the necessary follow up and Coastal Commission staff do not have sufficient staffing and resources to track down every violation.
Ultimately, boulders and seawalls are permanent structures and should not be allowed under temporary emergency permits. Under emergency action their use biases the sea level rise adaptation planning process and hinders our ability to come up with alternative solutions. It is time to push for innovative adaptation solutions such as managed retreat and nature based projects. The continuation of current emergency permitting practices will not incentivize such a shift.
The January storms have given us a glimpse of what sea level rise will look like on our coast and demonstrate the urgency with which we need to adapt. Notably, parts of Ventura experienced flooding and erosion similar to other parts of the state during the storms but the managed retreat/living shoreline project at Surfer’s Point performed well. The project has stood the test of time since its construction in 2011 and has withstood many severe storms and wave events, providing reason for optimism that we can replicate this success along the California Coast.