Marin County LCP Update
|Summary||Marin County has been working on a comprehensive update to its Local Coastal Program (LCP) for the past eight years. The update represents a significant policy shift in how Marin’s agricultural production lands, which comprise 2/3 of its coastal zone, are to be regulated. The LCP update also included a new Environmental Hazards chapter, but the County’s version was contrary to the Commission’s Sea Level Rise Guidance Policy, which was unanimously adopted by the Commission in August of 2015, in a number of ways. Coastal Commission staff attempted to bring Marin County’s LCP update into compliance with the Coastal Act by making numerous modifications, but the substantial policy changes went too far and did not receive the required CEQA alternatives analysis. Despite this, the Commission voted to approve the LCP update with Commission staff’s modifications. However, the Commission delayed approval of the controversial Environmental Hazards chapter after numerous property owners protested at the public hearing.|
|Outcome||Not Yet Decided|
|Outcome Description||Marin County is one of the first coastal jurisdictions to perform a comprehensive update to its LCP that was certified in 1982. Environmental organizations that testified at the public hearing raised concerns about the wholesale changes to existing agriculture policies, especially the definition of ‘agriculture’ that now includes several kinds of development. As one example, the updated LCP as modified by Commission staff allowed “agriculture” to be defined so that a variety of new development on a farm tract falls under the definition, including up to 8,500 square feet of residential development, a 5,000 square foot processing facility, a retail farm stand, and one “intergenerational” house even if the person(s) living there had nothing to do with the farm. Additionally, all this development was determined to be “necessary for” agricultural production despite that no findings were presented by the County or Commission to support this conclusion. Because almost all of these types of development are currently a conditional use under Marin’s Certified LCP and thus require a public hearing with an ability to appeal to the Coastal Commission, the LCP update lessens the public’s ability to weigh in on new development in the Marin coastal zone.
Additionally, the LCP reduces ESHA buffers down to 50 feet from 100 feet without scientific findings to support the change. It also limits scenic and visual resource protections so that only “significant” public views are protected despite that most of the agricultural lands are either right across from Tomales Bay and Point Reyes National Seashore or are near Golden Gate National Recreation Area lands. The Commission staff undoubtedly made some policies and development standards better, like for stormwater and groundwater testing.
The Sierra Club testified that while the LCP process is exempt from CEQA chapters 1 and 2, it is not exempt from chapters 3 and 4 which require an alternatives analysis as well as analysis of individual and cumulative impacts. The Commission staff did not perform an alternatives analysis or a cumulative impacts analysis as part of the staff report.
The Commission had an active discussion about how much flexibility agriculture should be given, with some commissioners supporting more flexibility if potential and real adverse impacts were analyzed and addressed. Commission Chair Kinsey wanted that position to go a step further. He made a motion to alter the definition of “ongoing agriculture” so that an intensification in the use of agricultural lands – like changing from grazing to row crops – would not require a coastal development permit or even a de minimis waiver permit. This seems to directly conflict with the definition of “development” in the Coastal Act that requires that any intensification of use obtain a CDP.
Regarding the Environmental Hazards (EH) chapter, Marin County strongly objected to the modifications made by the Commission to bring the policies and development code language into conformance with the Commission’s past practices and SLR Guidance Policy. Marin County wants property owners to be able to elevate their homes indefinitely without any evaluation of compliance with community character, scenic resource or public access protections. The County also wants existing shoreline armoring to count toward the amount of setbacks for new development, despite a direct conflict with the Commission’s SLR Guidance Policy. After significant discussions among staff and Commissioners, Acting Executive Director Ainsworth stipulated to some of the changes the County wanted, but not others. Because not all of the disagreements could be resolved at the hearing, the Commission directed staff to hold the EH chapter for further negotiations with the County. The Marin County LCP update cannot be implemented until this chapter is finalized and certified by the Commission.
Vote 1: Approve the Marin County LCP update as modified by the Commission staff. Unanimous approval. This was a complex vote, and as a result will not be scored.
Vote 2 (scored): Amendment to motion 1 that deleted the words “existing legally established” and “conversion of grazing to crop production” from the definition of ongoing agriculture. Mary Shallenberger was the only "Good" vote.
|Why You Should Care||As the first of many forthcoming comprehensive LCP updates, the Marin County LCP is likely precedent setting in determining how much new development the Commission will allow in rural, agricultural areas of the coastal zone. It is also precedent setting in how a local jurisdiction and property owners can pushback on policies adopted by the Commission, like the SLR Guidance Policy.|
|Decision Type||Local Coastal Program Update|
|Staff Recommendation||Approval with modifications|
|Opposition to Project||California Farm Bureau Federation, County of Marin, county homeowners, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, East Shore Planning Group, The Seadrift Association, BG Bates Realty, Marin Agricultural Land Trust, Strauss Family Creamery, Pacific Legal Foundation, West Marin Sonoma Coastal Advocates|
|Coastal Act Policies||Chapter 3|
Voting Detail for Marin County LCP Update
|Mary K. Shallenberger|
View Meeting Page for the meeting where this issue was discussed/voted on.