July 2021 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
August 23, 2021
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July Hearing Description

The Coastal Commission’s July virtual meeting took place over two days, rather than the typical three days, on Wednesday, July 7 and Thursday, July 8. The meeting included several important items addressing environmentally sensitive habitat areas including a local coastal program amendment to allow camping in the Santa Monica Mountains and two public works plans for the Counties of San Mateo and Santa Cruz. The meeting did not result in any vote charts.

Camping in the Santa Monica Mountains

On Wednesday, the Commission reviewed an application by Los Angeles County for a local coastal program amendment in the Santa Monica Mountains plan. The amendment allows for low-impact, cold camping except during “red flag” wildfire warning days. The amendment adds new standards for low-impact campgrounds, including location criteria, types of prohibited activities and items, capacity limits, length-of-stay limitations, and inspection standards.

The amendment would also change the minimum stream/riparian canopy setback requirement back to 50 feet instead of 100 feet for camping sites. Staff modifications add standards for fireproof cooking stations that may be proposed in low-impact campgrounds to define what would be allowed, including that only cold-camping apparatus with no open flames, such as flameless cook-stoves and lanterns, would be allowed, that use of fuel would be prohibited, and that only designated fireproof cooking stations provided at each approved campsite would be allowed to be used under strict operational standards.

Staff modifications aim to strike a balance between public access and public safety. Several local residents as well as a Councilmember from the City of Malibu raised concerns about allowing campgrounds in the Santa Monica Mountains due to wildfire concerns. Commissioners also raised concerns about the enforceability of the campfire and other restrictions due to the County's limited ability to perform inspections. Commissioner Mark Gold and Heal the Bay raised concerns about the reduction of the riparian buffer zone from 100 to 50 feet. Staff responded that since this is for a resource dependent use allowed within EHSA areas, rather than residential or commercial development, the lower setback is appropriate. Ultimately, the Commission approved the LCP amendment in accordance with the staff recommendation.

Santa Cruz and San Mateo County Public Works Plans

On Thursday, the Commission reviewed both San Mateo and Santa Cruz Countys’ Resource Conservation District for Forest Health and Fire Resilience Public Works Plans in a combined presentation. The plans include vegetation treatment activities to improve forest health, restore ecosystems, and increase wildfire resilience.

Sierra Club, Endangered Habitat League, California Chaparral Institute, Sequoia Forestkeepers Friends of Harbors Beaches and Parks registered concerns with the plans and the potential for habitat and sensitive species impacts. The groups argued that the plan and staff report mischaracterize coastal zone habitats and that important coastal zone habitats will be under threat if the plan is approved. The plans include thinning and clearcutting activities that the groups argued will destroy habitat and are not grounded in sound science. At a minimum, the groups requested a five year permit duration limitation so that the plans can be evaluated to impacts and effectiveness.

Commissioners ultimately approved the plans in accordance with the staff recommendation, noting the urgent need for fire management strategies. Commissioners acknowledged the need for adaptive management and urged local governments to evaluate the impacts and effectiveness of the plans over the next several years.