September 2021 Hearing Report

Mandy Sackett
October 25, 2021
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September Coastal Commission Report

The Coastal Commission’s September meeting took place virtually from Wednesday, September 13 to Friday, September 15. The meeting featured several important informational updates including a presentation from the US Geological Survey on new coastal groundwater rise modeling, an overview of the Coastal Commission’s draft critical infrastructure sea level rise guidance and an update from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management on the status of offshore wind development proposals. Notably, Santa Barbara County withdrew their local coastal program update for coastal hazards in disagreement with staff’s suggested modifications. The Executive Director and several Commissioners remarked on their disappointment with the County’s decision and the importance of proactive sea level rise planning. The meeting resulted in one vote chart, the resolution of a public access violation at Campland and the Mission Bay RV Resort in Mission Bay.

Critical Infrastructure Guidance

On Wednesday, the Coastal Commission heard an informational update reviewing the recently released draft Critical Infrastructure Sea Level Rise Guidance. The guidance aims to promote proactive planning and focuses on two main types of critical infrastructure: transportation and water. With climate change and sea level rise projections increasing all the time and the stark picture painted by the recent 6th IPCC Climate Change Report, it’s clear that planning for critical infrastructure resilience must be an immediate priority. The California coastline is lined with stormwater and wastewater infrastructure, power plants, hazardous waste sites, roads and other facilities and we have a narrow window of opportunity now to proactively plan and relocate as much as possible away from the coastal hazard zone.

This guidance helps municipalities plan in a way that protects our coastline and recreational opportunities at the beach, as well as our coastal economy and way of life. Surfrider Foundation as well as Environmental Action Committee of Marin County and California Coastal Protection Network spoke in support of the guidance and offered several suggestions. Importantly, the guidance analyzes the ‘extreme risk scenario’ — 10 feet or more of sea level rise by 2100. This consideration is essential for our communities to have some understanding of how we would respond under this enormously disastrous scenario. The guidance also recommends consideration and planning for key environmental justice impacts.

Surfrider, along with 12 organizations, also submitted a comment letter offering several important modifications that should be made to the guidance, summarized below.

  • Clarify and emphasize the need to avoid siting critical infrastructure in coastal hazard zones. We wouldn’t put a power plant on a fault line, and the Commission should feel comfortable in explicitly stating that the sources of California’s power and water cannot be located in a flood zone.
  • Express caution regarding the phased adaptation approach option outlined in the document, shoreline armoring should be a method of last resort under a narrow set of circumstances rather than described as a go-to interim/mid-term approach. Once armoring is in place, it is rarely removed. As sea levels rise, it becomes more and more difficult to imagine how these walls would be removed as the coast disappears.
  • Emphasize that priority and long term plans should call for managed retreat, otherwise we will be stuck in disaster response mode with unmanaged retreat.
  • Include seawater desalination as a type of project that should evaluate, plan, site and design to the H++ sea level rise scenario and recommend precautionary siting and design of water supply infrastructure in order to ensure water reliability and California’s Human Right to Water commitment.

Santa Barbara County Local Coastal Program Update for Coastal Hazards Withdrawn

Days before the hearing, Santa Barbara County withdrew their local coastal program update for coastal hazards citing a disagreement with Coastal Commission staff’s suggested modifications. Specifically, the County did not agree with staff’s suggestion to remove the date of existing development due to the implication on permissible shoreline armoring. At the hearing, the Executive Director lamented the County’s decision, stating that the withdrawal misses an important opportunity to discuss the LCP update and any discrepancies in a public forum as well as to get feedback from Coastal Commissioners. In reference to the disturbing trend of LCP update withdrawals, Commissioner Dayna Bocho sagely pointed out that there's no way for us to resolve our problems if local governments withdraw, stating, “running away from our decisions is not going to help. It's only going to get harder [...] climate change is coming faster than we knew.”

Offshore Wind Update

Coastal Commission staff as well as staff from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management gave an overview of Coastal Commission authority, review authority and emerging proposals offshore from California. Several environmental organizations commented and pointed out that California has an opportunity and responsibility to become a visionary leader in offshore wind energy and create a planning process that sets a high environmental standard for this new technology and ocean use.

Developing renewable energy is pivotal for California to avoid the worst consequences of climate change, achieve a zero-carbon energy future, and maintain our thriving economy, healthy communities, and national role as an environmental leader. However, offshore wind development will also have negative impacts on our ocean and coast. We must carefully consider the siting and design in order to avoid and mitigate the impacts.

One important consideration for responsible development of offshore wind energy includes Avoiding impacts on marine and coastal habitats and the wildlife that rely on them will be a key consideration for responsible offshore wind development. The coast of California is home to 124 MPAs and four national marine sanctuaries. The effectiveness of California’s MPA network relies not only on the protections of individual MPAs but on the connectivity of the entire MPA network.

Other key considerations include:

  • Avoiding conflicts with other ocean uses;
  • Robust consultation with Native American tribes and communities;
  • Meaningful engagement with state and local governments and stakeholders from the outset;
  • Avoiding impacts to environmental justice communities;
  • Using the best available scientific and technological data.