July 2023 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
August 24, 2023
View Meeting Details

July 2023 Hearing Report

The Coastal Commission meeting took place in Newport Beach on July 12-13. During the two-day meeting, the Commission received an informational update from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), found ‘No Substantial Issue’ on an appeal for an 89-unit condominium complex in Santa Cruz and voted to continue the hearing for the land use plan amendment by Huntington Beach related to the proposed Magnolia Tank Farm project. The meeting did not result in any vote charts.

Bay Conservation and Development Commission Report

On Wednesday, the Commission received a presentation from the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC) to inform the Commission about their Sea Level Rise Adaptation Funding and Investment Framework Final Report. Remarkably, the report found that: “Protecting all portions of the Bay Area shoreline that will experience sea level rise and storm surge by 2050 is estimated to cost $110 billion. Of that amount, Bay Area governments can account for just over $5 billion being available through existing federal, state, regional, and local funding programs. This leaves a gap of approximately $105 billion to fill in the next decades. While the cost of tackling this regional challenge is significant, failing to adapt would result in a much larger deficit. Even a partial estimate of the cost of inaction is anticipated to be over $230 billion.” [Emphasis added]

Commissioners commended BCDC for their efforts to address rising sea levels in the San Francisco Bay Area and study the cost of adaptation and the cost of inaction. Commissioners agreed that regional and interagency collaboration will be crucial.

Magnolia Tank Farm

On Thursday, the Commission heard a land use plan amendment for the City of Huntington Beach Magnolia Tank Farm site. The amendment would change the 29-acre Magnolia Tank Farm from ‘public uses and infrastructure’ to ‘residential, commercial and open space’ and pave the way for a developer driven residential and hotel project.

Project proponents, including Unite Here Local 11, argued that the project would add workforce housing stock and temporary construction jobs. Opponents, including Orange County Coastkeeper, Surfrider Foundation, California Coastal Network Protection, Residents for Responsible Desalination and local residents, argued that the promises for affordable and workforce housing are not guaranteed in the land use plan amendment. The project could increase flooding to nearby residences, suffer from toxic contamination from the adjacent ASCON toxic waste dump and superfund site as seas rise and legacy contamination is mobilized. Placing housing and a hotel on this historic low-lying wetland area could mean missing a major opportunity for smart sea level rise adaptation, such as constructed wetlands that might help absorb storm surges and rising seas. For more, check out the ActCoastal partner presentation on Youtube.

The staff report recommends denial, based on the need to address sea level rise, flooding, and groundwater rise in this area. Denial would also be consistent with the decision to deny the proposed Posiedon desalination plant in a nearby location, in part due to coastal hazards.

After several hours of public testimony and deliberation, the Commission voted to continue the item to a future hearing. Facing denial, the City was inspired to finally take Coastal Commission staff’s suggestions to ensure affordable housing and sea level rise are properly accounted for in the proposed LUPA and agreed to work on that over the coming months. The project must return for a Commission hearing by February 2024.

Overall, Commissioners agreed that there are unresolved concerns and more information is needed. Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders remarked on the clear need for affordable housing and to make sure that there are actual affordable units built, not just in-lieu fees and expressed concern about communities of color being subjected to coastal hazards. Commissioner Justin Cummings agreed, noting that locating housing next to a superfund site is a classic environmental justice issue. Commissioner Dayna Bochco pointed out that the safety of the site is in question and we need to be sure we are not removing a key adaptive area to protect the existing nearby neighborhoods. Vice Chair Caryl Hart pointed out the flooding in Huntington Beach is already a serious concern at present day. Chair Donne Brownsey remarked that the Commission is committed to getting more affordable housing, particularly workforce housing in the coastal zone.