March 2019 Hearing Report
By Mandy Sackett | Published 2019/04/23
March Hearing Report
The Coastal Commission’s March hearing took place at the California African American Museum in Los Angeles on Wednesday, March 6 through Friday, March 8. The meeting included important coastal issues: two seawall permits in northern San Diego County, construction of Wheeler North Reef offshore from San Clemente as mitigation for the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station and certification of the Commission’s landmark Environmental Justice Policy.
Environmental Justice Policy
The Coastal Commission meeting began on Friday morning with an impactful presentation by Dr. Alison Rose Jefferson, a Historian and Heritage Conservation Consultant, entitled “Making Visible Stories of African Americans and the California Dreams”. She spoke of the history of violence, exclusion and oppression that African Americans faced in visiting the beach in California. This presentation segued perfectly to the adoption of the Coastal Commission’s new Environmental Justice Policy which provides the vision for incorporating environmental justice policy into the Commission’s permitting and planning decisions. In 2016, Assembly bill 2616 amended the Coastal Act to give the Commission authority to specifically consider environmental justice when making permit decisions. According to the staff report, “The policy is intended to provide an analytical tool for the Commission to assess the potential disproportionate impacts of new development and coastal permitting decisions on traditionally marginalized communities, including historically disenfranchised communities of color.” The policy was developed with input from communities and organizations all across the state and was supported by a vast array of Environmental Justice organizations and Coastal Commissioners, including the Commission’s environmental justice representative Effie Turnbull Sanders. Check out the reports by Courthouse News and City Project. Dr. Jefferson’s presentation is posted on ActCoastal's YouTube page, here as well as the Environmental Justice Policy staff presentation and public comments.
San Diego County Seawalls
Important and progressive decisions were made on two separate applications involving shoreline armoring in San Diego County. One in Encinitas, which, after extended debate, the Commission voted to deny a permit application for a proposed new home. The Coastal Act requires new development to be set back far enough from bluff’s edge or the beach so that it will not require coastal armoring in the future. It is the intent that as pre-coastal act homes need to be demolished and rebuilt due to age, they will migrate landward, eliminating the need for protective structures and eventually restoring the coast to a natural state. By following the staff recommendation for denial in this instance, the Commission took an important step forward in upholding the intent of the Coastal Act.
The second vote also involved extensive discussion, where Coastal Commission staff recommended approval of shoreline armoring in a joint application for three homes in Solana Beach. The Commission ultimately amended the staff recommendation, holding that only the two pre-coastal act homes were legally entitled to a seawall. The third home was built after the Coastal Act had been adopted and therefore, the homeowners were not entitled to protective devices. While these properties cover only small pieces of the coast, they have the potential to set major precedent for the future. If there were no seawall in front of 245 Pacific, and one of the neighboring homes were redeveloped and the seawall was removed, a little pocket beach could be created as the bluffs would be allowed to retreat naturally - a glimmer of hope in an otherwise drowning beach.
Wheeler North Reef
As mitigation for the loss of kelp forest and fish biomass due to the construction and operation of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Southern California Edison (SCE) was required by the Coastal Commission to build an artificial reef able to meet a range of environmental thresholds, as part of their 1981 coastal development permit. Since the artificial reef was completed in 2008, it has been able to meet most of the absolute and relative standards, with the exception of the required standing fish stock of 28 tons, based on monitoring by the UC Santa Barbara Marine Science Institute. SCE’s application proposed to expand the 174.4 acre-reef by another 210.6 acres, by placing 175,000 tons of quarry rock offshore of San Onofre, in an attempt to increase the habitat and therefore the standing fish stock.
Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh raised concerns over one change in the staff report which allowed for cumulative credit for fish stock since construction of the reef. Commissioner Aminzadeh was concerned that the environment had paid the price for decades without sufficient mitigation since operations began and that this leeway should not be provided. Staff agreed not to give cumulative historical fish stock credit.
The Surfrider Foundation raised concerns over potential impacts to iconic surfing resources directly adjacent to the reef expansion and asked for surf monitoring to be included as part of the project. Ultimately, the application was approved without any surf monitoring provisions. Many projects that the Coastal Commission reviews have the potential to influence surfing conditions and surf monitoring needs to be a standard condition - not doing so puts this vital recreational and economic opportunity at risk, especially as threats such as coastal hazards and sea level rise increase.
A Ticking Time Bomb Underneath the Ballona Wetlands
The SoCalGas Playa del Rey methane storage facility sits on top of and immediately adjacent to the Ballona Wetlands. Just like the Aliso Canyon gas storage facility, it is a ticking time bomb nestled next to hundreds of thousands of residents. Both facilities are mostly depleted oil fields that were repurposed as methane storage fields. In the case of the Playa del Rey field, it was turned into gas storage in 1943 and operates with a conditional use permit since the 1950s - posing a significant threat for the local community. It is time for the Coastal Commission to do its part and ensure the families who live next to this dangerous facility are safe.
Read on to find out more from Azul’s Andrea Leon-Grossman.