June 2022 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
June 27, 2022
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June Meeting Report

The Coastal Commission’s June meeting took place in San Diego on June 8-10. The meeting featured several important, high profile agenda items including the BOEM proposed offshore wind lease sale for Morro Bay, the Del Mar Bluffs Railway Stabilization project, an informational update on the recently release Public Trust Guiding Principles & Action Plan and a new blufftop residence in Cayucos. The meeting resulted in two vote charts. Check out the full meeting report and vote charts here.

Morro Bay Offshore Wind Energy Area

On Wednesday, the Coastal Commission approved a Consistency Determination by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) for future offshore wind development in the Morro Bay Wind Energy Area, approximately 20 miles offshore of Cambria. The lease sale area includes over 240,000 acres in federal waters and allows lessees to submit plans and conduct site assessment activities. A coalition of NGOs urged the Commission to address concerns related to development activities given there are reasonably foreseeable projects as part of the lease sale evaluation. They assert that this will be the main opportunity to evaluate cumulative impacts and is an important opportunity to condition future activities to address marine and coastal issues such as underwater noise, marine mammal monitoring, benthic habitat protection, avian species protections, invasive species concerns and more. Read the environmental coalition comment letter here.

Commissioners unanimously supported the staff recommendation, noting the importance of careful consideration of project impacts while simultaneously moving forward as expeditiously as possible due to the urgent need for renewable energy to combat the climate crisis. Commissioner Caryl Hart wisely pointed out that, “If we impair biodiversity in our attempt to address climate change, we are undermining what we are trying to do.” Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders raised several important environmental justice concerns and comments including:

  • Need to ensure shared economic opportunity of offshore wind development with historically marginalized populations
  • BOEMs lease sale scoring criteria only gives a weight of 2.5% on community benefits
  • Supply chain investment appropriately encourages Project Labor Agreements (PLA)
  • Conditions 5 and 6 require “reasonable efforts” to consult with affected environmental justice communities and tribal nations, which leaves the level of effort up for interpretation by the dominant culture. The term “Shall” would be a more appropriate term in those conditions.
  • Reporting requirements would be appropriate for community impacts and benefits
  • Need to ensure diversity as a requirement of contracting opportunities and prioritizes equal opportunity for diverse bidders.

BOEM responded to these comments stating the intention to prioritize these issues moving forward. The proposed lease sale was unanimously approved as recommended by staff. The Commission maintains review authority over specific project evaluations but has missed an important opportunity to set forth specific expectations in the form of conditions that would address environmental impacts.

Del Mar Bluffs Railway Seawall and Relocation

On Wednesday, the Coastal Commission approved a major public works project proposed by the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to construct bluff stabilization structures and over half a mile of seawall along the Del Bar Bluffs to protect the blufftop railway. The permit duration is limited to 30 years, at which time the shoreline armoring must be entirely removed. SANDAG has committed to relocating the railway by 2035. The project also includes substantial public access improvements as mitigation for the project including addressing the longstanding need for a designated rail crossing and formal beach accessway in the project area. The commitment to relocating the rail is so dramatic and so well documented in the permit that the Surfrider Foundation supports the project as a special case study in phased relocation in light of sea level rise. SANDAG has expressed the consistent message and firm commitment that it is a willing partner in this plan for managed retreat. Check out the vote chart for this item for more information. and visit Surfrider San Diego’s meeting recap here.

Public Trust Guiding Principles and Action Plan

Coastal Commission staff presented the Public Trust Guiding Principles & Action Plan as an informational item on Thursday. The Guiding Principles & Action Plan describes how the public trust doctrine relates to the Coastal Commission’s work on sea level rise planning, presents a series of principles and sets forth next steps and research priorities for the Commission. Check out the Surfrider Foundation comments on this plan.

Cayucos blufftop house

On Friday, the Commission narrowly approved construction of a new blufftop residence in Cayucos that would rely on an existing riprap seawall. The new home would replace an existing home and more than triple the size. Originally, the staff recommendation included that precluded repair and maintenance of the existing wall, ensuring it would erode away over time. At the last minute, staff posted an addendum that removed that requirement. The Coastal Act and the County's LCP both expressly prohibit armoring to protect new development as an important means to protect the coast from erosion and rising seas. Coastal Commission staff conclude that when factoring in sea level rise, the minimum bluff setback for the proposed development should be 35-40 feet, however, only a 25 foot setback is required. The Surfrider Foundation commented, urging the Commission to increase the blufftop setback and avoid a terrible setback for allowing new development to rely on a seawall and fail to factor sea level rise into the setback calculation. Regardless, the Commission approved the development in a 5-4 vote. Check out the vote chart for more information.