July 2022 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
July 21, 2022
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July Meeting Report

The Coastal Commission met in Fort Bragg on Wednesday, July 13 through Friday, July 15. The Commission heard several important informational updates including a progress report on CalTrans Eureka-Arcata Hwy 101 Corridor Sea Level Rise Adaptation Plan and a planning briefing from the City of Fort Bragg. The Commission also found substantial issue with two noteworthy local permits involving shoreline armoring in Oceanside and Laguna Beach and approved a controversial cease and desist order involving Reservation Ranch in Del Norte County. The Reservation Ranch item resulted in a vote chart.

Reservation Ranch

On Thursday, the Commission’s enforcement division brought forth a consent cease and desist order for unpermitted development at a property known as Reservation Ranch in Del Norte County. Reservation Ranch occupies over 1,600 acres of land and approximately 3.5 miles along the Smith River. The Smith is the largest undammed river in California and is a crown jewel of the national Wild and Scenic River program.

Reservation Ranch was once sacred tribal territory of California Native Americans including the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation, stolen as colonization and genocide was carried out in this part of the world. Sacred tribal resources continue to exist there. In 1908, this farm was deeded to the Westbrook family who managed it as a cattle and dairy operation for several generations. In the 1960’s levees were built that destroyed the extensive wetlands and slough on the property.

The list of offenses at Reservation Ranch have been accused of is lengthy and involves, among other things, dumping manure, trash and cow carcasses into the Smith River estuary. They've also been cited for diverting water from the Smith without a permit or regard for the creatures dependent upon the area's habitats including Roosevelt Elk, waterfowl and endangered Coho Salmon. Further violations pertain to blocking public access to the ocean and sloughs adjacent to the Smith.

The approved consent cease and desist orders address these violations and include:

  • Removal of Levee Crossings and Opening of Tillas Slough to Public Access and Natural Tidal Flows
  • Reforestation one and a half miles along the west fork of Tillas Slough, parts of the slough and cattle fencing to protect the slough
  • 10+ Acre Riverfront Public Access Easement, 14 Acre Riverfront Forest Land Dedication, and 2 Acre Oceanfront Blufftop Land Dedication, 17 Acre Forest Land Conservation Easement
  • Cultural survey of Tillas Island

Representatives from the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation requested additional mitigation measures. Several of those requests include:

  • Dedicate all public access areas to the Tolowa Dee-ni’ Nation as they are the original rightful stewards of this estuary.
  • Increase public access and conservation acreage on Tillas Island and other cultural areas.
  • Include administrative and civil penalties in final restoration orders.

These requests were not included in the final approved orders. Commissioners, including Kristina Kunkel and Sara Aminzadeh, expressed reluctance with moving forward with the Orders given the outstanding concerns by Tribal representatives. After several hours of deliberations, the Commission unanimously approved the Orders and restoration plan with an additional 17 acre forest conservation easement and a cultural survey of Tillas Island negotiated from the dias.

The Orders represent one of the largest restoration projects in Northern California and will greatly enhance water quality for recreational use at the Smith River Mouth and improve public access to the coast and river. While these Orders are a very small step towards justice for Tribal Nations, true restorative justice for the atrocities committed towards the Native Nations and their ancestors would include resolutions beyond the scope of staff and the Coastal Act. The state, at the highest levels, must proactively support land-back efforts here and throughout California.

Laguna Beach Gaviota Drive Substantial Issue

On Wednesday, the Commission found Substantial Issue with the City of Laguna Beach coastal development permit to approve construction of a new 3,500+ square-foot blufftop home that encroaches onto building setbacks within the public right of way. The new home would not have an adequate setback from the bluff edge and will perpetuate reliance on existing bluff retention structures. Under the Coastal Act, new development is clearly not permitted to rely on shoreline armoring. Surfrider Foundation supported this appeal by Mark & Sharon Fudge based on the following factors:

  • The approved CDP does not adequately calculate the bluff edge setback.
  • The approved CDP qualifies as new development; all existing shoreline armoring must be removed.
  • The approved CDP restricts coastal access by encroaching onto public right of ways.

As the climate crisis looms, we must carefully consider our permitting and planning decisions. Every decision we make today will determine the future of our beaches in the coming decades. The De Novo hearing for this item is forthcoming.

Oceanside Revetment Repair

The Commission found substantial issue with a permit granted by the City of Oceanside for revetment repair spanning 19 private parcels (i.e. homes) along S. Pacific Ave., directly in front of the public beach. Surfrider San Diego Chapter, Citizens for the Preservation of Parks & Beaches, and Commissioners Brownsey and Hart all appealed the project. Appellants main concerns were that the project was partly within the Commission's original permit jurisdiction aka public tidelands, therefore requiring a consolidated Coastal Development Permit. Also, the City permit failed to include any mitigation for impacts to sand supply or easement protections for lateral beach access as required in their LCP, and in general made no efforts to ensure the revetment was situated as far landward as possible. A de novo hearing is forthcoming.