November 2018 Hearing Report

From ActCoastal

By Mandy Sackett | Published 2018/12/21

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Commentary is provided by ActCoastal partners.

This blog represents the views of the authors, and does not necessarily reflect the positions of ActCoastal and its partner organizations.

November Hearing Report

The Coastal Commission’s November hearing took place November 7-9 at the Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco. The meeting agenda was less packed than the October hearing, but still included important updates and decisions on environmental justice, sea level rise, public access and more. Specifically, we tracked the 2018 Sea Level Rise Science Update, the Environmental Justice Draft Policy, the Orange County Ocean Outlets Maintenance Manual Update and an Informational Briefing on Offshore Wind Energy Resources. The meeting resulted in one vote chart on the 2018 Sea Level Rise Science Update. To view testimony by ActCoastal partners on these issues, visit our YouTube page!

Environmental Justice Policy

The Coastal Commission staff drafted an Environmental Justice policy for the Commission’s review and featured the draft as an informational item at the November hearing. In 2016, the California Coastal Commission gained the authority through the passage of AB 2616 to specifically consider environmental justice when making permit decisions. The draft policy outlines a statement of guiding principles on topics such as respecting tribal concerns, meaningful engagement, coastal access, accountability and transparency, climate change, habitat and public health.

The Surfrider Foundation supported suggestions by Azul and Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) that the Commission slow down the process and create a longer timeline for policy development and implementation, as well as to ensure wide participation and support of impacted communities. See testimony by Surfrider and Azul here. In written comments, CAUSE also noted that the EJ policy could benefit from greater specificity. Ultimately, Commissioners agreed and directed staff to take more time developing the policy with greater input from the public.

Orange County Ocean Outlets Maintenance Manual

Orange County proposed to amend their permit for maintenance of ocean outlets within Orange County and the Orange County Ocean Outlet Maintenance Program Manual. The permitted maintenance work includes the replacement of dislodged rock, floating trash removal, excavation of accumulated sediment at the seaward end of the outlets, water quality monitoring, and deposition of the sandy materials on the adjacent beaches.

The Surfrider Foundation Newport Beach chapter provided comments on this issue, supporting maintenance of the County’s channels at design depths. One notable change in the Manual is an increase from 7,500 cu.yd. to 70,000 cu.yd. of sediment excavation at the Santa Ana River and placement on Newport Beach seaward of the mean low water line. Surfrider voiced concerned about potential impacts to surf resources with the deposition of sediment onto Newport Beach and supported the staff report’s inclusion of surf monitoring as a special condition to the permit, with one important caveat - suggesting longer monitoring duration requirements. Surfrider’s suggestion was not ultimately included, however, the inclusion of surf monitoring represents a positive shift in permitting and reflects the importance of preserving surfing resources statewide.

Offshore Wind

Following a presentation by California Energy Commissioner Karen Douglas, Surfrider Foundation offered comments on behalf of several organizations including NRDC, Sierra Club, National Audubon Society and Defenders of Wildlife. These are among the many NGOs that have been tracking and commenting on the offshore wind energy process as it’s been moving along. Surfrider and colleague organizations have consistently advocated in favor of a scientifically and stakeholder-driven siting process that prioritizes environmental sensitivities and believe it appropriate that the state ocean agencies take an active role to ensure that environmental concerns are elevated in the offshore wind development process.

To that extent, they urged the Coastal Commission to take a proactive role in advocating for the science and an inclusive stakeholder driven process. Working with CEC, the Ocean Protection Council, NGOs and other ocean stakeholders, the Coastal Commission is well positioned to help identify and elevate stakeholder priorities and concerns at the federal level.

For example, it is essential that siting decisions are driven by the best available science. While much of the best available science has been uploaded into the “Offshore Wind Data Basin,” a comprehensive spatial analysis of that environmental data is still needed; without third party spatial analysis of the approximately 700 data sets in the Data Basin, informed choices about appropriate siting locations for offshore wind developments cannot be made.

BOEM already has a call for information and nominations out, and is seeking input on three proposed locations, yet without a third-party scientific analysis of marine mammal habitat, fish and sea turtle data, and other critical environmental information, state agencies such as the Coastal Commission and other stakeholders are not well-positioned to make recommendations about appropriate locations for offshore wind development. The Commission is poised to lead in environmentally sensitive lease area identification and in communicating ecological concerns with the following actions:

  • Help secure funding for third-party scientific analysis of the Data in the Data Basin and facilitate the creation of an environmental sensitivity data layer;
  • Encourage state partners to be visionary in leading offshore wind development by addressing use conflicts early;
  • Insist on a process that sets a high environmental bar for this new technology in the ocean that is so vital to our economy and our well-being.

Commissioners agreed more data synthesis and coordination was needed between state agencies and followed up with an extended discussion regarding how to achieve those goals. Commissioner Anne Baker, representing the California State Lands Commission, pledged that agency's commitment and Executive Director Jack Ainsworth agreed that increased agency collaboration would be a priority for the Coastal Commission as well.