November 2021 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
December 21, 2021
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November Meeting Summary

The Coastal Commission’s November meeting took place on Wednesday, November 17 and Friday, November 19. The Commission’s November meeting was jam-packed with important informational updates, the Hollister Ranch Public Access Workshop and two emergency seawall permit extensions for Capistrano Beach (Dana Point) and Ocean Beach (San Francisco.) On Wednesday, the Commission received a report by Director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Institute at UC Santa Barbara, Dr. Charles Lester. The report presented policy recommendations for safeguarding public trust resources in light of sea level rise. The Commission also adopted new sea level rise guidance, Critical Infrastructure at Risk: Sea Level Rise Planning Guidance for California’s Coastal Zone - which is detailed in a vote chart.

Public Trust Resource Report Released by UC Santa Barbara

On Wednesday morning, Dr. Charles Lester, Director of the Ocean and Coastal Policy Institute at UC Santa Barbara, gave a presentation on a recently released report presented Protecting Public Trust Shoreline Resources in the Face of Sea Level Rise. The report analyzed existing legal and policy frameworks for protecting the public trust in light of sea level rise and makes 20 key policy recommendations to the Commission

The report states that, “The recommendations convey a precautionary approach, based on tideland science and the public trust doctrine, that liberally construes the Coastal Act’s mandate to protect public tideland resources, including public access and recreation, shoreline ecology and the intrinsic beauty of the coast.”

Dr. Lester reviewed the report’s key findings and recommendations as to how the Commission can protect public tidelands into the future in innovative and collaborative ways, suggesting that the agency will need to collaborate closely with the State Lands Commission given their jurisdiction over public tideland leases.

Key priorities in the report include taking a “zone of concern approach” to identifying the boundary between public and private lands, recognition of the affirmative duty to consider the cost of shoreline armoring decisions to public land, and the need for further collaboration with the State Lands Commission on lease rates and plans for tideland protection.

Dr. Lester stated, “We all know what happens if you fix the back of the shoreline […] completely losing our tidelands is not the right balance [between public resource protection and private property].”

Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh expressed her support for the recommendations and noted the need for the Commission and State Legislature to institutionalize the priorities.

Attorney and Ocean Institute, Ralph Faust item correspondence pointed towards the need for implementation, "Public trust lands are being lost, and the Commission has a duty to protect them in its implementation of the Coastal Act.” The Surfrider Foundation also provided comments in support of the recommendations.

Coastal Commission Adopts Critical Infrastructure Sea Level Rise Guidance

On Wednesday morning, the Coastal Commission adopted Critical Infrastructure at Risk: Sea Level Rise Planning Guidance for California’s Coastal Zone – new state guidance to help local jurisdictions plan and adapt critical water and transportation infrastructure to climate change hazards and sea level rise. The guidance will be critical for making water and transportation systems more resilient over the coming decades.

ActCoastal partners, along with a larger coalition of other nonprofit organizations, overall supported the guidance document. The guidance clearly recommends phased adaptation approaches, evaluation of extreme sea level rise scenarios, and prioritization of nature-based adaptation solutions. The document also guides users in addressing the disproportionate burden that sea level rise inflicts on environmental justice communities, and acknowledges that decisions made today will impact coastal species, migratory birds and marine wildlife in the future as they adapt to future climate change scenarios.

Surfrider and others urged the Commission to more definitively reiterate in the document that armoring is not an acceptable approach to phased adaptation where other alternatives are an option. This recommendation was not addressed by Commissioners or incorporated into the final document.

A coalition of partners including ActCoastal members also focused comments on the need to address seawater desalination structures more thoroughly as part of the guidance on water infrastructure, especially given pending desalination projects in Huntington Beach and statewide. Coastal Commission staff resisted this recommendation by citing capacity and the need to evaluate desalination facilities on a case-by-case basis, but did incorporate criteria that could be used to evaluate whether a proposed desalination plant would be considered critical infrastructure.

Commissioners discussed concerns about a comment letter submitted by Poseidon Water LLC, which stated their interpretation and support for the guidance as specifically excluding desalination from any critical infrastructure designation. Exclusion of desalination would allow facilities to be built to a lower standard of design, saving costs for shareholders but potentially leaving the public with the tab if the structure or public supporting utilities were to become damaged by sea level rise or other environmental hazards like an earthquake or tsunami.

Commissioner Mark Gold clearly opposed the desire to address seawater desalination in the guidance because other structures (i.e., power plants) were not specifically addressed. Other Commissioners disagreed, since the guidance document does intend to address water infrastructure. Commissioner Dayna Bochco and Carly Hart advocated for addressing desalination in the guidance more clearly. Commissioner Donne Brownsey sought a compromise that was ultimately incorporated into the document and the staff recommendation – a footnote that more guidance regarding desalination may be the subject of a future update to the guidance. - Please note this vote resulted in a vote chart and will be posted after the ActCoastal website is restored.

Coastal Commission Grants 18 Month Extension for Ocean Beach Coastal Adaptation Plan

On Wednesday morning, the Coastal Commission also granted the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC)an 18 month time extension to retain existing riprap, seawalls and geotextile bags on the beach in Ocean Beach. The Surfrider Foundation expressed caution about the time extension and asked Commissioners to weigh in on the need for a coastal adaptation plan for this portion of Ocean Beach that would be faithful to the Ocean Beach Master Plan. The Ocean Beach Master Plan includes landward relocation of the Great Highway and the construction of a living shoreline. The plan also includes a low profile, buried seawall to protect the Lake Mercer Tunnel, a buried piece of water infrastructure pipeline that currently runs under the Great Highway. The latest version of SFPUC’s plan includes a much larger and further seaward wall that may be less likely to remain covered by the living shoreline installation. SFPUC’s environmental impact report (EIR) will be released for comment in early December 2021. The Commission agreed that 18 months may be needed to finalize the EIR and granted the permit extension.

Draft Hollister Ranch Public Access Program Workshop

On Thursday, the Commission held a public workshop regarding the recently released draft Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program. Hollister Ranch is a gated subdivision in Santa Barbara County which includes 8.5 miles of shoreline along Gaviota Coast, which includes six sandy beaches with very little access. The Coastal Conservancy and the Coastal Commission attempted to implement an access program over the last several decades but have been unable to overcome landowner opposition. To address this long-standing delay, Assembly Bill 1680 (Limón) was signed into law in 2019, requiring the Coastal Commission, the Coastal Conservancy, the State Lands Commission and State Parks to prepare an updated contemporary Public Access Program for Hollister Ranch beaches that includes provisions for initial public access by April 1, 2022.

ActCoastal partners strongly supported the draft Public Access Program. Hollister Ranch homeowners turned out to the meeting in droves with excuses about why the public should continue to be excluded from this stretch of coast, citing concern that the public would degrade the beach. However, the Access Program suggests a thoughtful phased access program based on adaptive management that would carefully balance access with habitat and resource protection. The effort would also institute a Chumash Cultural Access program granting access to cultural sites, and prioritize access for environmental justice communities. Representatives from the Coastal Band of the Chumash Nation commented at the hearing that it felt unjust to be invited back to their native land and sacred sites in this way.

Coastal Commissioners engaged in a lengthy discussion regarding access program priorities, agreeing that adaptive management was a priority as well as the need to focus on justice for nearby communities and tribal nations. The Program will return in the future for final Commission adoption after continued stakeholder input and specific detailed plans are developed.

Check out the ActCoastal Youtube page for coalition member comments on these items and more!

Capistrano Beach Seawall Permit Extension

On December 9, 2020, the Commission approved a CDP by Orange County Parks (OC Parks) to remove damaged public park amenities and temporarily retain emergency shoreline armoring at Capistrano Beach in Dana Point. As a condition of approval, the County was tasked with evaluating a living shoreline pilot project to address erosion. OC Parks completed the evaluation but has yet to submit detailed plans; however, they are expected to submit before their December 2021 deadline.

On Friday, the Commission approved a permit amendment to extend their deadline by four months to April 2022 to allow County and Commission staff time to coordinate and adjust the pilot project plans.

The Surfrider Foundation South Orange County chapter weighed in, not in opposition of the time extension, but with concerns over the sufficiency of the report and the plan to address the longstanding problems. The options evaluated for a pilot project are narrow in scope to the point that they can’t be applied to a successful beach-wide effort.. There is still no long-term vision for this area, despite the current disrepair of the beach; which is littered with sand bags and flooded at high tides.

Commissioner Caryl Hart suggested that OC Parks evaluate opportunities for state funding for a nature-based solution to help restore Capistrano Beach. This issue is expected to come before the Commission again for a follow up CDP in the next four months.