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August 2022 Hearing Report

By Mandy Sackett | Published 27 September 2022

August Meeting Report

The Coastal Commission’s August meeting took place in Calabasas on Wednesday August 10 - Friday, August 12. There were several important informational updates including Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program and State Parks’ Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy. Key votes included approvals of the Carlsbad Desalination Mitigation Work Plan and the Tomales Bay Oyster Farm. On Friday, the Commission held the Local Government Workshop on Sea Level Rise Adaptation.

Hollister Ranch Access

On Wednesday, during the Executive Director’s report, Coastal Commission staff gave a brief update on the Hollister Ranch Coastal Access Program. The Access Program document is undergoing updates after the November 2021 workshop and public comment period. State agencies are also preparing an Programmatic Environmental Impact Report (PEIR) for the Access Program with the Coastal Commission as the lead agency. The PEIR process is expected to take two years and will include opportunity for public comment. More information can be found here.

California State Parks Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy

On Wednesday, Chief of California State Parks, Jay Chamberlin presented the agency’s Sea Level Rise Adaptation Strategy - the framework for addressing impacts of sea level rise in coastal state parks. The Strategy is primarily an internal facing document to inform park management decisions. The document outlines seven planning principles that include utilizing best available science, prioritizing equity and social justice, nature based infrastructure and building partnerships. It also outlines a wish list of decision support tools.

State Parks is late to the formal sea level rise planning party. The Coastal Commission finalized its first Sea Level Rise Guidance document back in 2015. Despite the timeline, State Parks has made a number of progressive adaptation and managed retreat management decisions such as living shoreline demonstration projects in Cardiff and Malibu Lagoon. The agency has committed to managed retreat as a long term strategy at San Onofre State Beach and Pigeon Point Light Station. It is disconcerting nonetheless, that the agency does not appear to have a meaningful public engagement, environmental justice outreach or tribal consultation process detailed for its existing or future sea level rise planning or vulnerability assessments. It is also dismaying that seawalls are still the option of first resort in many circumstances. State Parks inexplicably abandoned plans to rebuild the pier and boat launch at Gaviota, for example, because the Coastal Commission permit required them to use a different building material to avoid the need for a seawall in sensitive rocky intertidal habitat.

As the agency moves forward with conducting vulnerability assessments for individual and regional parks, public and tribal input must be integrated at every stage of the planning process. State Parks manages one quarter of the California Coast, nearly 300 miles. Every decision made now and in the future will determine whether our coast, waves, and the recreational opportunities they provide, will drown as sea levels rise.

Local Government Sea Level Rise Workshop

On Friday, the Coastal Commission held a joint workshop on sea level rise planning with local government officials and covered controversial topics related to sea level rise adaptation and Local Coastal Program (LCP) Updates. The City of Morro Bay presented their perspective as a successful LCP update and Santa Barbara County presented their experience as an unsuccessful update that was ultimately withdrawn due to policy disagreements between local and state staff.

Morro Bay recounted its extensive planning process that spanned from 2015 to 2021, including over 75 public meetings, 4 grants and $10 million. The update includes plans for managed retreat, especially for the area’s wastewater treatment facility and upgrades for the harbor. Challenges included gaining buy-in from the embarcadero leaseholders group and planning for the harbor area.

On the other hand, Santa Barbara County presented their case having withdrawn their LCP update after local and state staff negotiations between 2019 and 2021 left the County with several areas of disagreement. The County is unwilling to incorporate standard Coastal Act policies including the correct definition of existing development, waiver of rights provisions for shoreline armoring, setback policies and the use of best available science. In response, Vice Chair Caryl Hart stated, “The issues that Santa Barbara is disagreeing with are unfortunately standards that we apply throughout the state. It is very hard to negotiate from one community to the other. For example, setbacks or existing structure rules that are different from everyone else. Those are things that are not going to happen, legally it would be contrary to the law, the Coastal Act.”

Chair Donne Brownsey reinforced Vice Chair Hart’s statement, adding, “A number of the modifications that [Santa Barbara is] unable or unwilling to accept are standard conditions in every single permit the Coastal Commission approves.” She went on to comment about the contention about the date of existing development, “It is absolute bedrock, baseline legislative statutory interpretation, that the changes in the law are effective from the date of the law going forward. This idea about the date of existing as January 1, 1977 isn’t radical or bizarre, it’s basic legislative statutory law.”

During the workshop, Coastal Commission staff and the LCP working group announced a frustrating new direction to move towards phased planning or a sequential approach to amending LCP updates, as a means of compromise over policy disagreements. This would involve more time and work and be more expensive. It would also leave our coasts vulnerable. Every day we don’t have long term plans in place to protect the coast from rising seas and hazards that put our beaches, waves and coastal habitats at risk of damaging permitting decisions.

Local governments also expressed frustration with the amount of staff turnover and time required to get feedback on their draft LCP updates. There is a clear need for more robust funding for Coastal Commission staffing in order to speed up processing times and retain staff. Local governments should join the Coastal Commission in soliciting additional funding from the legislature to ensure timely LCP updates and protect our coast from looming climate threats.

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