June Coastal Commission Hearing
By Jennifer Savage | Published 2016/06/10
Many items of interest came before the California Coastal Commission at its June meeting including offshore fracking, coastal armoring and blufftop development.
Wednesday's Public comment: State Parks’ proposed parking fees
Back in April, a controversial attempt by State Parks to impose parking fees on undeveloped lots in Sonoma County brought out hundreds of people in protest. At that time, Commissioners could have voted against the proposal and ended the years-long controversy. Instead, and against staff’s recommendation, Commissioners opted to direct staff to keep trying to work with Parks and the County of Sonoma to determine if moving forward was possible
Chair Steve Kinsey expressed appreciation for the public’s involvement and promised to “keep you included in the decisions and actions we take from here on out” – but the public has not been included or updated in a timely manner on the three meetings since held by Kinsey, Vice Chair Dayna Bochco and Commisison staff: one with Parks, one with Sonoma County and one with both.
This is particularly disturbing as these meetings would have been unnecessary if Parks had responded to Commission staff’s original requests. It appears that Parks not only successfully dodging public participation, but is also being rewarded for its unresponsiveness.
The Surfrider Foundation brought this lack of inclusion to the forefront during the June meeting’s public comment period, asking why this proposal is getting unusual and unprecedented treatment – private meetings about public lands – without explanation. A prior request to include stakeholders has been ignored. Without public stakeholders in the meetings, the public has no way to know exactly what was discussed, how much of the public’s interest was defended or to what extent Commissioners may have advocated for the applicant.
Interim Executive Director Jack Ainsworth, who attended the meetings, reported that the purpose was to explore if a framework could be found to allow all three agencies to constructively negotiate moving forward. Commissioner Mary Shallenberger commented that she was uncomfortable with Commissioners being present during staff’s negotiations, prompting Commissioner Wendy Mitchell to lash out, “We’re here as commissioners to make things work!” She and Bochco then stepped out of the room for a moment, as Shallenberger offered a diplomatic response.
Ainsworth clarified that Kinsey and Bochco were careful to stay out of negotiations, he said. He also said that Parks has committed to developing a mechanism for stakeholder and public participation.
The next update is scheduled for the September meeting in Newport Beach. In the meantime, Kinsey stated, as long as the process doesn’t “completely break down,” he and Bochco will no longer be involved.
A full summary of bills in play can be found on the ActCoastal blog (http://www.actcoastal.org/wiki/Major_Coastal_Commission_Reforms_In_Play_in_Legislature).
Energy, Ocean Resources and Federal Consistency
Public comment included a request for the Commission to address the final Programmatic Environmental Assessment (PEA) released May 27, 2016 by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) and Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE).
The Environmental Defense Center’s 2011 discovery that oil companies were quietly engaging in offshore fracking in the Santa Barbara Channel led to a settlement requiring federal agencies to analyze the potential negative environmental effects and placed a moratorium on fracking operations.
Unfortunately the just-released PEA asserted a finding of “no significant impact” for well stimulation activities in federal waters off the California coast. This action ends the moratorium on offshore fracking that has been in place since January.
Environmental advocates strongly believe the assessment is inadequate. It fails to sufficiently respond to Coastal Commission comments, or to recommendations to halt production or to at least conduct a thorough environmental review before allowing the practice to proceed.
(An overview of the dangers of fracking can be found here: http://www.beachapedia.org/Fracking.)
Further, the agencies fail to acknowledge the legal requirements of the Coastal Zone Management Act, which grants states oversight of federal activities off state waters through a federal-state regulatory process. As the California Coastal Commission has communicated to BOEM and BSEE, the two federal agencies’ broad approval of fracking off the California coast has not undergone this consistency analysis that must be conducted.
Commission staff is preparing a response to the PEA to be reported at a future meeting.
Sonnie, Encinitas – Seawall stonewalling
This is another example of a homeowner armoring an entire bluff without having to pay mitigation fees for the loss of public beach/access/recreation.
Applicants requested after-the-fact retention of seawall, deadman anchor system and gravel on bluff face; removal of existing failed upper bluff wall, construction of rear-yard concrete patio, construction of upper bluff rear-yard caisson and retaining wall retention system, installation of new landscaping on bluff face and aesthetic treatment of seawall face in Encinitas, San Diego County.
Commission staff did impose a number of reasonable conditions, noting that the project is only allowed shoreline armoring because the home predates the Coastal Act. Staff also makes clear that the property owner will have to pay mitigation for sand and access impacts in the future.
Staff’s report also asserts that due to sand naturally shifting, the mean high tide line does not necessarily delineate the division between private and public property as is commonly stated. This is a good precedent, as it shows how a seawall landward of the mean high tide line may still impact public access, clearing the way for future mitigation and perhaps reducing the Commission’s obligation to approve shoreline armoring in the future.
Barr, Solana Beach – New development on a treacherous bluff
This application for a new residence on a coastal bluff sparked grave concerns from coastal advocates, who cited the Coastal Act’s prohibition against new development requiring “protective devices that would substantially alter natural landforms along bluffs and cliffs.” Also, the Solana Beach Land Use Plan strictly forbids new development seaward of the “Geologic Setback Line” due to the danger of erosion, making this lot too small to accommodate the new residence in the current location without shoreline armoring; the applicants are depending on an existing sea wall in order to ensure that their new home will not be threatened by natural bluff erosion.
Coastal advocates urged the Commission to deny the application and avoid setting another dangerous precedent in Solana Beach After some discussion, which included the acknowledgement that the project was far from ideal, the Commission voted to approve it.
Thursday's Public Comment: Goleta Beach revetment controversy
Surfrider Foundation’s Santa Barbara chapter Vice Chair Everett Lipman gave a presentation on nearby Goleta Beach during public comment. A Santa Barbara County revetment project on the beach continues to be of questionable value and even more questionable legality.
As Lipman’s photos showed, the revetment continues to be exposed – an apparent violation of the County’s permit – and fails to offer safe pedestrian access to the sand, which is so soft and unstable at times to make walking over the revetment extremely dangerous. Further, Lipman’s photos showed, the beach is littered with debris that the County is supposed to have removed and is dramatically visually impacted – again, in apparent violation of the permit. Beyond even that, the County appears to have engaged in unpermitted excavation and building, including installing a new revetment
Commission staff responded that the original rock revetment was considered demonstration project and supposed to be subject to “a lot” of monitoring. Staff also maintained that El Niño caused substantial erosion, with Goleta being particularly heavy hit. The County’s construction did exceed the scope of work, it was noted, and staff is currently working with the County to address the matters at hand.
These apparent violations remain a significant concern as proactive planning – as opposed to shortsighted reactions – for erosion and other changes exacerbated by Sea Level Rise is critical.