March 2020 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
May 22, 2020
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March 2020 Hearing Description

The Coastal Commission’s March hearing took place in Santa Cruz at the Hilton Scotts Valley on Wednesday, March 11 through Friday, March 13. The meeting agenda was a little lighter than usual and resulted in one vote chart - the Santa Cruz Beach Management Plan. The City of Santa Cruz also presented the state of their sea level rise planning efforts in an informational presentation. Please also see this important message from the Coastal Commission Chair about the March meeting with an important coronavirus update.

Coastal Commission Coronavirus Disease Update

Please note that public counter hours for all Commission offices are currently suspended through March 31st in light of the coronavirus. However, in order to provide the public with continuity of service while protecting both you and our employees, the Commission remains open for business, and you can contact staff by phone, email, and regular mail (see staff contact information at Thank you for your patience and understanding as we all work through this public health crisis.

The April 2020 Coastal Commission Meeting is Cancelled

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the April 2020 Coastal Commission meeting is cancelled - "We understand this may be an inconvenience and burden and we truly regret the disruption. For the May Commission meeting, we are currently working to develop the structure and procedures for a remote or “virtual” meeting in order to assure the health and safety of the public, commissioners and staff. Unfortunately, these new measures will not be in place in time for the April hearing. Thank you for your patience and understanding during these difficult times. Our virtual offices remain open." Visit California's information hub at -

Beach Curfew Approved in Santa Cruz

The California Coastal Commission has historically opposed beach curfews; the agency’s LCP update guidance states that “Closure to public use of any portion of the beach inland of the mean high tide line is not encouraged.” In the zone between “disallows” and “is not encouraged,” however, many conflicting issues of access, resource protection, social inequity, public safety, California’s homelessness crisis and the ability of jurisdictions to enforce our agreed-upon laws exists.

On Wednesday, the City of Santa Cruz sought, as part of its beach management plan, a curfew at its Main Beach from midnight to 5 a.m. The adjacent beach, Cowell’s, already has a similar curfew, which the City asked to continue.

In its application, the City listed “narcotic use, alcohol consumption and abuse, littering and trash, fires, water quality, camping, vendor storage and drug paraphernalia” as the reasons this curfew is necessary. Since most of what was listed is already illegal, opponents to the curfew argued that disallowing people on the beach would criminalize sleeping, sitting, generally hanging out and otherwise merely existing on the beach outside of the wet sand. (The curfew would exempt the wet sand in order to allow for surfing, swimming and walking along water’s edge.) As the City itself noted in its application, “Presence on the beach during nighttime hours constitutes an infraction in and of itself, thereby providing police officers with probable cause to contact and cite persons suspected of engaging in other nuisance-related criminal misconduct.” Some Commissioners noted that creating a police state on the public’s beach could set a poor precedent for the rest of the state.

The City of Santa Cruz also stated that despite the nighttime access restriction on Cowell Beach, “criminal activity has been persistent and ongoing during the nighttime hours at Cowell Beach.” The City notes that the police department is too understaffed to effectively patrol the beach for existing crime, all of which raised the question of how the police will have enough staffing to enforce an extended curfew.

Commissioners approved the curfew in a split vote.

State of Sea Level Rise Planning in Santa Cruz

On Friday, the City of Santa Cruz presented an update on their sea level rise planning efforts. Based on this presentation, it looks as though the City’s efforts are a great model for other local governments to look to as they grapple with their own sea level rise vulnerability assessments and adaptation plants. The City is undergoing a process with extensive public outreach and intends to adopt the state’s recommendation of utilizing adaptation pathways and triggers as part of a stepwise plan. The City has also partnered with local academia and other agencies to support their efforts and expand their capacity.

In Santa Cruz, fifty percent of the coastline is armored. Known for their two-dozen or so outstanding surf breaks, the City is grappling with the reality that many will be drowned out by 2050 due to sea level rise. Additionally, the City has identified socially vulnerable coastal communities and analyzed their intersection with hazard zones. They have included the vulnerable community in the outreach and planning process and are working on solutions that will protect all communities as well as allow the City to maintain its cultural identity.

The City is working on two main initiatives to address these issues – a West Cliff Drive Adaptation and Management Plan and an LCP Sea Level Rise Strategies and Policies to Support Public Beach and Public Access Protection, known as the Beaches Project, which counts on a 17 member technical advisory committee. Both of these efforts are expected to be complete by the end of 2020 and will come before the Coastal Commission for approval.

The City also ran though an example of an adaptation pathway – the concept that will be guiding the plans. To use adaptation pathways, the City intends to identify sea level rise trigger metrics, such as beach width, that will initiate a next phase of planning or implementation. This prevents them from locking in investments too early or too late. An example might start with the City responding to a bluff failure by implementing a living shoreline concept and continue along that pathway until repetitive loss occurs, such as with access points or transportation ways. At that point, the City would switch to a managed retreat mode. The City has broken its coastline into seven different segments and associated adaptation pathways.