July 2019 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
August 15, 2019
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July Hearing Report

The Coastal Commission’s July hearing took place in San Luis Obispo at the Embassy Suites Hotel on Wednesday, July 10 through Friday, July 12. A number of controversial items dominated the agenda over the three days of hearings with Oceano Dunes being at the top of that long list. The agenda also featured important coastal issues including public access, beach preservation and environmentally sensitive habitat areas. The hearing resulted in two vote charts and additional items are discussed below. Check out ActCoastal partners' testimony on our Youtube channel!

  • The first vote chart was item Th8a, an application by the 2 Mirada Ownership Group and Casa Mira Homeowner’s Association to construct an approximately 250-ft. long tied-back concrete seawall, fronting both residential development and a portion of the California Coastal Trail near where Mirada Rd. intersects the shoreline at the bridge over Arroyo de en Medio in Half Moon Bay. Surfrider Foundation argued that the Coastal Trail is not a coastal dependent use and is not entitled to shoreline armoring. Read the full issue description and vote chart, here.
  • The second vote chart was item W26a. The Commission acted on the City of Newport Beach’s request to amend its certified LCP to expand the allowable residential beach encroachments zone on the Balboa Peninsula to a maximum of 15 feet oceanward of ocean facing property lines. However, in addition to sending a message that private property should be allowed to expand into public space, it is nowhere near guaranteed that this loss of public beach space will be replaced one for one. Read the full issue description and vote chart, here.

Oceano Dunes

At hand, several conditions recommended by Commission staff that would require California’s Department of Parks and Recreation (Parks) to better protect people, animals, habitat and air quality, all of which suffer greatly due to Oceano Dunes State Park’s long history as an off-road vehicle (ORV) mecca. For decades Parks has failed to enforce its own rules and regulations, and the community and creatures have been paying the price: the area has some of the worst air quality in the nation and dune buggies regularly crush snowy plovers under their tires while tearing up the dunes.

But ORV enthusiasts consider driving on Oceano Dunes a de facto right instilled by generations of doing so – and they showed up by the hundreds to fight against Commission staff’s recommendations. Ultimately, despite the overt animosity, the two sides did not come to blows and the Coastal Commission decided to give Parks one more year to complete their public works plan – which must incorporate all the recommendations – and return it to the Commission for approval. As the two are sister agencies, the Commission’s ability to force Parks to do anything remains unknown, but for now, they’ve pledged to work together toward the common goals spelled out in Commission staff’s report.

Pacific Grove Local Coastal Program Continued

The City of Pacific Grove submitted an update to their Local Coastal Program. While staff generally suggested approval, they also recommended a number of revisions aimed at strengthening protections of sensitive habitat in Asilomar Dunes and specifying the definition of “existing development” as that built prior to the Coastal Act’s passage in 1977. The latter is critical because pre-Coastal Act properties are generally entitled to seawalls – which kill beaches – and post-Coastal Act are not. Additionally, the definition of redevelopment was debated; residential development that meets the threshold as a redeveloped property must come into conformance with the Coastal Act. This will have implications for the homes at Asilomar dunes, built atop coastal dune habitat classified as environmentally sensitive habitat area. Commissioners voted to continue the item; directing staff to work with the City of Pacific Grove to resolve the City’s and homeowners’ concerns with the suggested modifications.

Local Government Workshop

The Coastal Commission spent the day on Friday with local government representatives to engage in according to the staff report, a “full, frank and mutually respectful discussion of key coastal city and county issues and concerns.” Along with short-term rentals and Local Coastal Programs (LCPs), the topic of sea level rise was discussed. Many local governments have expressed discontent on behalf of their beachfront and bluff top homeowner residents with the Coastal Commission's draft Residential Adaptation Policy Guidance document. The guidance suggests local governments avoid hard armoring as a response to sea level rise and to consider relocation structures away from the shore line in order to preserve a natural, functioning coastal habitat for marine life as well as for recreational use and public access. Representatives from the Surfrider Foundation provided comments supporting the guidance document and urging the Coastal Commission to continue its role as a national leader on coastal adaptation by providing comprehensive guidance for long-term coastal hazard planning that preserves public coastal resources. The discussion was productive, with agreement that a sub-committee working group should be established to continue to work out disagreements between the Commission and local governments on sea level rise adaptation policies.