March 2022 Hearing Report
March Coastal Commission Report
The Coastal Commission’s March meeting took place virtually on March 9-11. The meeting included several important information updates including the Ocean Protection Council’s Sea Level Rise Action Plan, a Resilient Coastal Roads tool, Hollister Ranch Public Access Plan and a comprehensive enforcement report. Notably, the Commission approved a new hotel development in Santa Monica with innovative sustainability, low cost and employee accommodations measures with an outpouring of public support. The Commission announced that their first in person meeting since the COVID-19 pandemic will occur next month, April 6-8, in Ventura.
Sea Level Rise Action Plan
On Wednesday, the Executive Director’s report featured several important coastal resiliency updates. First, Commissioners celebrated the Ocean Protection Council’s (OPC) recently released Sea Level Rise Action Plan - a five year plan developed among 17 state agencies. The plan details 80 actions the state will take to help increase coastal resiliency from sea level rise. Surfrider Foundation, California Coastal Protection Network, Coastal Environmental Rights Foundation and Defenders of Wildlife commented on the plan - see those comments on our Youtube page. The groups commended the efforts of state agencies to coordinate their actions and expressed cautious optimism that the plan would help protect natural coastal resources and vital habitats from rising seas. Chair Donne Brownsey and Commissioner Aminzadeh expressed gratitude, support and cautious optimism as well. Chair Brownsey pointed out that this action plan is likely the first of its kind in the country and is a testament to the hard work of many to get us to this point. Commissioner Mark Gold pointed out that this will be a living document and comments will be accepted and considered moving forward. OPC staff will present the action plan in a deeper dive at the Coastal Commission’s April meeting. Comments can be submitted to SLRActionPlan@resources.ca.gov.
Resilient Coastal Roads
The Executive Director’s report also featured a new information tool - a Coastal Resiliency Storymap on California’s roads and transportation infrastructure. The tool, created by NOAA, CalTrans and other federal partners shows how climate change will impact vulnerable roadways and highlights pathways to resilience. If followed, these insights can help take coastal transportation projects beyond an asset-by-asset focus with chronic, piecemeal, and expensive repairs in hazardous areas, towards longer term approaches with more holistic and resilient corridor management strategies and projects that will ensure travelers reach their destinations throughout changing circumstances into the future. Check out the storymap!
Hollister Ranch Public Access Plan Update
On Wednesday, Coastal Commission staff gave an information update on the Hollister Ranch Public Access Plan. Staff announced that they would not be able to grant access to the public to the 8-mile stretch of the Gaviota Coastline in Santa Barbara County by this April as directed in AB 1680. Hollister Ranch Homeowners Association has made it clear that if access is opened, they will bring a lawsuit forward. As a result, staff will be evaluating all options and avenues for access and expect at least an 18 month delay. The Gaviota Trail Alliance, Azul and others expressed frustration with the delay and the HOA’s tactics to put off the inevitable outcome of increased public access. Staff did include in the report a list of updates to the Access Plan that are underway based on public comments on the first draft. Courthouse News reported on the hearing.
This month’s enforcement report detailed the different approaches that the Commission is taking to pursue enforcement of the Coastal Act. Five members of staff detailed their enforcement activities, at least one of whom has 500 open cases within their personal workload — pointing out the capacity challenges related to enforcement. Despite these challenges, the Coastal Protection Network and Surfrider spoke to commend enforcement staff and pointed out that the average resolution time to resolve public access cases has been drastically shortened from a few years to a few months. Additionally, staff’s work to advance enforcement work through permitting decisions has and will continue to result in expedient and real on-the-ground changes in communities, as illustrated by the Los Cerritos wetland restoration project in which a cap needed on site revealed a grading violation. The resulting CDP ultimately restored the wetland area to a vastly improved condition. All Commissioners chimed in to support staff enforcement efforts. Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh led a discussion and offered to spearhead communication efforts with the state legislature to pursue more resources for the department and Chair Brownsey supported those efforts.
Palisades Hotel Redevelopment in Santa Monica
The Commission unanimously approved an application for the redevelopment of the historic Palisades Hotel in Santa Monica. The approved ‘Miramar Hotel’ project permit allowed the applicant to remodel the historic Palisades Building with no change in intensity of use, though an LCP amendment was required to approve the height of the new development. 59 members of the public spoke in overwhelming support of the application. The applicant worked with the community for years and their CDP proposal included a commitment to add 42 family sized affordable housing units adjacent to the property, as well as an agreement to a $6.47 million fee (adjusted to the cost of inflation) to the Coastal Conservancy to be used for the creation of low-cost lodging. In addition to these commitments, Surfrider chimed in to support the opening of parts of the hotel to ocean-facing open space reserved for free public use, as well as a condition committing to a Marine Debris Reduction Program which prohibits the hotel from providing single use foodware and participate in a marine debris reduction program, with Surfrider’s Ocean Friendly Restaurants program included as a suggested option.