September 2019 Hearing Report

From ActCoastal

By Mandy Sackett | Published 2019/09/21

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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.

September Hearing Report

The Coastal Commission’s September hearing took place in Newport Beach on Wednesday, September 11 through Friday, September 13. Commissioners heard several items related to water quality, beach access, shoreline preservation and sea level rise. The hearing resulted in two vote charts concerning the repurposing of Chevron ocean outfall pipes in San Luis Obispo County and the repair of the pier and boat hoist at Gaviota State Beach. To see the full hearing description and vote charts, click here.

Sea Level Rise in Orange County

The Coastal Commission presented an informational item on vulnerabilities to sea level rise and climate change hazards in Orange County and the state of planning for related risks. This was the second in a series of monthly updates for each region. Sean Hecht, co-executive director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at UCLA School of Law, presented a number of considerations related to flood insurance. He concluded that property values and availability of insurance are more likely to be affected by other market dynamics and availability sea level rise data and predictions rather than Coastal Commission permit and planning decisions. The Orange County Register published an overview of the staff report and a description of the threats in a recent article. Surfrider Foundation also presented a number of concerns in the region – watch the presentation on the ActCoastal YouTube channel.

Increasing Transparency, Accountability, and Opportunities for Effective Public Participation

Former Coastal Commission Chief Council Ralph Faust recently published an article in Pritzker Environmental Law and Policy Briefs titled, The California Coastal Commission: Increasing Transparency, Accountability, and Opportunities for Effective Public Participation. In the article, Faust notes that the Coastal Act enshrines the public’s right to fully participate in decisions and that the Commission should include the widest opportunity for public participation. This article was presented to the Commission at the September meeting, and several groups and individuals spoke in support of the recommendations made in the article, including Surfrider Foundation and California Coastal Protection Network. In summary:

  • Implementation of the recommendations in the report has the potential to make things easier for the Commissioners and staff, as well as for the public to participate and feel heard by structuring the flow of information so that we will all have a reasonable amount of time to consider key facts and arguments in reaching a decision.
  • By providing a more deliberative and transparent process and electronic tools to support it, Commissioners can reduce some of the pressure to have ex parte communications – they can better anticipate that material information will be provided in timely written submissions, and have more time to consider that information.
  • Completion of a public-facing portal to access permit information, ex parte records, etc. can help Commission staff reduce or channel time-consuming information requests. When key information in the decision making record is readily available online, it will be easier for parties and the public to find it on their own.

Moving forward, the Commission should take action to implement the article’s recommendations. Specifically, staff should respond to the recommendations and how best to move those forward. The Commission should also establish at least a two-member working group to identify how best to move the recommendations forward. And staff should include these recommendations in their next phase of rulemaking changes, ideally before 2021.

Mini-mansions on Faria Beach in Ventura County

The Coastal Commission heard a de novo appeal for the construction of two new beach front homes on Faria Beach in Ventura County. The two +5,000 sq.ft. homes would be built within the Faria Beach Homeowners Association. The new homes would be located clearly within a sea level rise coastal hazard zone. Although the homes are supposedly designed to not need shoreline armoring or rely on the existing seawall, the Surfrider Foundation raised serious concern as to whether new development should be located in such clearly vulnerable locations. Ultimately, when disaster strikes, it is the public who pays in the form of disaster relief funds, damage to public property and the loss of coastal resources.Photos captured by Surfrider during the January 2019 king tides clearly demonstrate the impacts this community near Point Pinos, at others across the state will be facing. Further, these new developments would be given the benefit of shoreline protection due to an existing seawall. If we don’t use opportunities like these start removing seawalls parcel by parcel (which is not part of the proposed project), we will be leaving this up to the homeowners to ensure conformity and enforce the Coastal Act - it’s unlikely they will do so on their own will. The Commission approved the project with staff’s recommended special conditions.