May 2023 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
May 24, 2023
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The Coastal Commission’s May meeting took place in Sacramento on May 10-12 in Sacramento. The agenda was jam-packed with important items including an in-depth panel presentation on offshore wind, certification of a guiding principles document on the public trust, and permit action on a seawall and new blufftop house in Santa Cruz, nuclear waste storage at Diablo Canyon Lands, a seawall extension in Ocean Beach, a discharge pipeline in Ventura, and a border sewage improvement project, among others. The meeting resulted in three vote charts - Pacific surf schools, Public Trust Guiding Principles and Action Plan, and Opal Cliffs Blufftop House in Santa Cruz. Key ActCoastal items that were not charted are described below.

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Diablo Canyon ISFSI

The Commission approved a permit amendment for Pacific Gas and Electric to amend the Independent Spent Fuel Storage System (ISFSI), the spent fuel storage site at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to accommodate a new horizontal storage system adjacent to the ISFSI’s current vertical storage system. This change is beneficial in that it will reduce the amount of time it takes to transfer spent fuel from the cooling pools to dry storage, which can improve safety at the site.

A representative of the Northern Chumash Tribal Council voiced concern over the long-term public access to Diablo Lands, supporting the upgrades and emphasizing that lost access to this area and sacred tribal sites need to be holistically addressed. Surfrider Foundation and Sierra Club's Santa Lucia chapter argued that since the permit amendment technically extended the permit duration, additional public access mitigation should be required. Commission staff suggested that there was not a nexus for more mitigation and Commissioners unanimously approved the staff recommendation without modification. The California Natural Resources Agency recently released a Diablo Lands Public Access Plan that may inform future access improvements to this portion of California coast.

Border Sewage Improvements

The Commission found concurrence with a federal consistency determination for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Section of the International Boundary and Water Commission project to improve sewage and wastewater treatment in Tijuana River Valley. The project includes expansion of existing wastewater treatment capacity, upgrades to collection and transport systems, construction of a 35-million gallon per day Advanced Primary Treatment Plant for ocean discharge. Commissioner Paloma Aguirre, Mayor of Imperial Beach, pointed out that more needs to be done to address this issue that plagues the border region and causes beach closures a majority of the year.

Ventura Pipeline and Discharge

The Commission approved a City of Ventura permit application to construct an approximately 6,800-foot-long ocean outfall to discharge effluent from the Ventura Water Reclamation Facility until the Advanced Water Purification Facility is operational, at which time recycled water will be reused locally, and the ocean outfall will be used to discharge the final produced concentrate through spaced diffusers. Ventura Coastkeeper and Heal the Bay filed a lawsuit in 2010 for water quality violations related with the Facility's discharges into the Santa Clara Estuary e and together with the City came up with the ocean outfall solution, which will greatly improve water quality and habitat benefits in the Estuary.

The Ventura Audubon Society requested the Commission add a requirement to establish a study that addresses all species that benefit from the ponds, not just special status species, and include a means to preserve the ponds and adjacent wetlands for present and future generations. The Surfrider Foundation Ventura chapter suggested additional ocean water quality monitoring requirements be added to the permit. Those requests were not specifically incorporated into the permit approval.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission received unanimous approval from Commissioners to extend the authorization for temporary permitting of existing armoring and erosion control measures at Sloat Boulevard in South Ocean Beach until July 2024. Surfrider commented in support of the extension due to the need to work on the follow-up long-term plan more extensively with the community, with Surfrider's California Policy Manager Laura Walsh noting that the final project in the area should exemplify how the Commission can address public trust needs even when critical infrastructure is vulnerable to sea level rise. Staff noted the long history and complexity of the project and the 'blockbuster' nature of the item due to its importance in the city and state.

Informational Briefing Offshore Wind

On Wednesday, the Commission received a 4 hour-long briefing on offshore wind, featuring remarks made by Secretary of the California Natural Resources Agency Wade Crowfoot, as well as from sister agencies, industry executives, researchers, Coastal Commission staff and Senator Mike McGuire. Secretary Crowfoot summarized the Commission’s key role in advancing offshore wind in saying that “we need to ensure that as we consider bringing on this resource, we do so through all of the processes that we've built in California to...avoid, minimize, mitigate, any impacts, from the development. And that's really where you all come in at the Coastal Commission. The Coastal Commission, you all are so critical to ensuring that any such energy development that's happening on the coast or off the coast is done appropriately.” Senator McGuire made similarly strong remarks about the need for the State to increase funding for the Commission to address the enormous job of preparing to permit 25 GW of offshore wind capacity by 2045. On Thursday, the Commission voted to support SB 286 (McGuire) which proposes a consolidated permitting process for offshore wind projects that designates the State Lands Commission as CEQA lead.