California Coastal Commission
California Coastal Commission Logo
|Annual budget||$33 million (FY2021-22)|
|Parent agency||California Natural Resources Agency|
The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is a state agency within the California Natural Resources Agency with quasi-judicial control of land and public access in the "coastal zone" along the shoreline and up to five miles inland. The Commission's mission is defined in the California Coastal Act, including to "protect" and "enhance" California's coast.
It regulates land use on a section of land from the state's 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of shoreline extending inland by up to five miles. It has the authority to control construction of any type, including buildings, housing, roads, as well as fire and erosion abatement structures, and can issue fines for construction it did not approve.
Critics say it has exceeded its mission, violated property rights of citizens, and worsened California's housing shortage by limiting housing supply while advocates say that it has protected open space, views, habitats, and coastal access.
The California Coastal Commission (CCC) was established in 1972 by voter initiative via Proposition 20. This was partially in response to the controversy surrounding the development of Sea Ranch, a planned coastal community in Sonoma County. Sea Ranch's developer-architect, Al Boeke, envisioned a community that would preserve the area's natural beauty. But the plan for Sea Ranch eventually grew to encompass 10 miles (16 km) of the Sonoma County coastline that would have been reserved for private use. This and other similar coastal projects prompted opponents such as Peter M. Douglas, a self-described "radical pagan heretic" and subsequent Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, to form activist groups. Douglas's and others' efforts eventually led to putting Proposition 20, of which Douglas was the principal author, on the ballot.
Proposition 20 gave the Coastal Commission permit authority for four years. The California Coastal Act of 1976 extended the Coastal Commission's authority indefinitely. Peter M. Douglas helped write the act in addition to prop 20 and was subsequently employed as the Executive Director of the Coastal Commission for 26 years.
The agency is tasked with protection of coastal resources, including shoreline public access and recreation, lower cost visitor accommodations, terrestrial and marine habitat protection, visual resources, landform alteration, agricultural lands, commercial fisheries, industrial uses, water quality, offshore oil and gas development, transportation, development design, power plants, ports, and public works. The Commission's responsibilities are described in the California Coastal Act, especially the Chapter 3 policies.
The Commission has shown resilience in the face of obstacles, for example after the 1978 Agoura-Malibu firestorm. An arsonist started the fire, killing 3 people, destroying 230 homes and 254 other structures on 25,000 acres. Fire victims feared the Commission would withhold permission to repair homes, a method of extracting from families concessions like new easements creating public paths through burned properties. Jerry Brown tried to intervene and pushed for emergency exceptions to protect the fire victims from the Commissioners, calling them “bureaucratic thugs.” In response, the Commission printed and dressed up in playful t-shirts with the moniker: “Coastal Bureaucratic Thug and Proud Of It.”
Accounting for 164 percent inflation, the commission's total funding declined 26 percent from $22.1 million in 1980 ($13.5 million in then-current dollars) to $16.3 million in 2010. The commission's full-time staff fell from 212 in 1980 to 125 in 2010. There are 16 Commission employees working in the enforcement function to investigate violations along the 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of coastline. The Commission's total budget for fiscal year 2019-2020 was $32,086,000 The total compensation of the Commission's executive director John L. Ainsworth was $254,000 in 2019, Charles F. Lester's was $177,000 in 2015, and Peter M. Douglas's was $213,000 in 2011. Including the proposed budget for fiscal year 2021-22, the cumulative expenses of the Commission since 2007 exceed $348 million.
The Commission is composed of 12 voting members, 6 chosen from the general public, and 6 appointed elected officials. Being on the Commission can carry responsibilities which are highly politicized. The 12 appointed commissioners control zoning, compel property alterations, impose fines, bestow construction approvals or vetoes, and require public thoroughfares on private property.
Jonathan Zasloff, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles stated that “The commission is the single most powerful land use authority in the United States given the high values of its jurisdiction and its high environmental assets.” and that, because its members are appointed by the governor and the State Senate and Assembly leaders (which have generally been Democrats), “The commission reflects a constituency that is important to Democrats."
Development activities are broadly defined by the Coastal Act to include (among others) construction of buildings, divisions of land, and activities that change the intensity of use of land or public access to coastal waters. Development usually requires a Coastal Development Permit from either the Coastal Commission or the local government if such development would occur within the Coastal Zone. The Coastal Zone is specifically defined by law as an area that extends from the State's seaward boundary of jurisdiction, and inland for a distance from the Mean High Tide Line of between a couple of hundred feet in urban areas, to up to five miles in rural areas.
The state authority controls construction along the state's 1,100 miles (1,800 km) of shoreline. State Route 1 is prohibited from being widened beyond one lane in each direction within rural areas inside the Coastal Zone, per Public Resources Code section 30254.
The Coastal Commission has the ability to overrule local elected representatives and has also gained the ability to fine private citizens. The agency has sought enforcement through the courts as it originally did not have the power to issue fines on its own to alleged violators. A bill in the California legislature to grant the commission a broad power to issue fines was defeated in September 2013. However legislation attached to the state budget in the summer of 2014 finally granted the authority to impose fines on violators of public-access which could apply to about a third of the backlog of over 2,000 unresolved enforcement cases. The first notable fines were issued in December 2016 against Malibu property owners Dr. Warren M. Lent and his wife, for 4.2 million dollars, and Simon and Daniel Mani, owners of the Malibu Beach Inn, who settled amicably for $925,000. The difference in severity of the fines were attributed to the "egregious" nature of the Lent case.
The Commission recommended cities implement managed retreat philosophies allowing oceans to naturally erode developments thereby nourishing beaches with reclaimed sand made of disintegrated former properties.
Critics of the Commission's authority say it has exceeded its mission, violated the constitutional property rights of citizens, and worsened the California housing shortage by limiting housing supply. Advocates such as Mary Shallenberger, a former Commissioner, say the Commission has protected open space, views, habitats, and coastal access, and should be given authority to control housing to a greater extent.
On the Commission's ability to practically dictate how coastal land is used, Jeff Jennings, the mayor of Malibu commented: “The commission basically tells us what to do, and we’re expected to do it. And in many cases that extends down to the smallest details imaginable, like what color you paint your houses, what kind of light bulbs you can use in certain places.”
University of California researchers discovered the Commission drove up housing prices by limiting supply, worsening the California housing shortage. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that housing within the Commission's jurisdiction was 20% more expensive than comparable adjacent dwellings. A study conducted at the University of California, Santa Barbara discovered that the Commission increased housing prices by restricting supply thereby “harming renters, future home buyers, and owners of undeveloped land.” Existing homeowners in the Commission's jurisdiction were beneficiaries of the price increase.
Requiring affordable overnight coastal accommodations
According to the Commission, the California Coastal Act requires that “overnight accommodations in the Coastal Zone are [be] available at a range of price points.” When permitting new hotels, they usually try to require 25% of bookings at expensive hotels be offered at lower rates, or, in the case of a developer who is adding a small botique style hotel to a beach property, he will be required (in 2021) to pay $150,000 into a fund which will help to provide for lower cost accomodations in the region.
Local coastal programs
A "local coastal program" is the official name for a zoning plan controlled by the Commission but administered by a local agency. The Commission can retake granular control of any project if it is appealed. An appeal will take approximately 6–8 months on average to reach a final decision and may take longer to resolve more complicated appeals.
The Commission is the primary agency which issues Coastal Development Permits. However, once a local agency (a County, City, or Port) has a Local Coastal Program (LCP) which has been certified by the Commission, that agency takes over the responsibility for issuing Coastal Development Permits. For areas with Certified LCP's, the Commission does not issue Coastal Development permits (except in certain areas where the Commission retains jurisdiction, i.e. public trust lands), and is instead responsible for reviewing amendments to a local agency's LCP, or reviewing Coastal Development Permits issued by local agencies which have been appealed to the Commission.
A Local Coastal Program is composed of a Land Use Plan (LUP) and an Implementation Plan (IP). A Land Use Plan details the Land Uses which are permissible in each part of the local government's area, and specifies the general policies which apply to each Land Use. The Land Use can be a part of a local government's general plan. The Implementation Plan is responsible for implementing the policies contained in the Land Use Plan. The Implementation Plan is generally a part of the City's Zoning code.
Using its quasi-judicial legal authority, and also by litigating before independent courts, the Commission has fined residents millions of dollars, compelled property alterations, required public thoroughfares on private property, as well as blocked, disrupted, and penalized the construction of fire-mitigation infrastructure, homes, offices, and roads. Some citizens have resisted, and the Commission has pursued cases up to the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. Supreme Court Cases
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the 1987 case of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission that a requirement by the agency was a taking in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The Coastal Commission had required that a lateral public easement along the Nollans' beachfront lot be dedicated to facilitate pedestrian access to public beaches as a condition of approval of a permit to demolish an existing bungalow and replace it with a three-bedroom house. The Coastal Commission had asserted that the public-easement condition was imposed to promote the legitimate state interest of diminishing the "blockage of the view of the ocean" caused by construction of the larger house. The court, in a narrow decision, ruled that an "essential nexus" must exist between the legitimate state interest and the permit condition imposed by government, otherwise the building restriction "is not a valid regulation of land use but an out-and-out plan of extortion."
The Commission won its attempt to require a permit for activity on a pharmaceutical limestone quarry owned by Granite Rock Company of Watsonville, California in the United States Supreme Court case California Coastal Comm'n v. Granite Rock Co. Its work halted, Granite Rock's approved Forest Service permit to excavate pharmaceutical limestone expired by the time the case was decided.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Half Moon Bay was ordered to pay $1.6 million in penalties for failing to provide public access to its nearby beaches in 2019. Cars of hotel guests and golfers would be parked in public spaces by the valets or public access was simply denied to those spaces.
The Commission fined a midwestern immigrant family $1.5 million for building a small red-painted home in Topanga Canyon without adequate permits. The state argued the family should be imprisoned for their transgression. Using the civil provision of the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, which allows individuals to seek damages for corrupt government actions, the family got their chance to show that they were victims of government fraud. A jury found that two county building officials defrauded the family in a racketeering enterprise designed to extort money for building permits.
In 2020, the Commission fined 33 Newport Beach residents a total of $1.7 million because their yards encroached on the beach, and required that the beach be returned to its natural state.
The Commission fined the owner of Oceanaire Apartments $1.45 million for not maintaining a stairway on the property, and for erosion mitigation work without sufficient permits. The Commission said the stairway owned by apartment complex must be opened as a public thoroughfare for beachgoers. Apartment staff said they were working on repairs, but it wasn't fast enough. The Commission sent a cease and desist order.
The Lent family was fined $4.18 million for keeping a gate on their property that blocked access to the beach in Malibu, CA. The Commission preferred a public thoroughfare for beachgoers on the Lent's property.
The Commission fined Simon and Daniel Mani, owners of the Malibu Beach Inn, who settled "amicably" for $925,000. The Commission wanted the owners to build and finance two public stairways from the state parks parking lot next door down to the beach.
To assuage the Commission for violating permits during his wedding in Big Sur, Sean Parker, a billionaire former president of Facebook made an app for the Commission to help visitors discover beaches and report violators. He also paid $2.5 million in penalties.
The Commission fined a hotel builder $15 million for building a new hotel without a permit in Santa Monica.
In 2019, during the process of replacing wooden power poles with steel poles to reduce wildfire risk, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power graded fire roads and created new roads on Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas in Topanga State Park which destroyed almost 200 endangered Braunton's milkvetch plants on 9 acres (10% of those plants in the area). The city agreed that its utility will pay the Commission's fine of $1.9 million and will follow the restoration order requiring LADWP to apply for a coastal development permit to complete the project and to restore 9 acres of habitat within the coastal zone and 17 additional acres outside the zone.
The Commission fined a family $1 million and issued a cease and desist order because the family renovated their 1950s house and existing seawall in Laguna Beach to prevent erosion without sufficient permits. The Commission also ordered the family to tear down the seawall protecting their home. The City of Laguna Beach filed an amicus brief in support of the homeowners in an effort to defend them from the Commission, but failed.
The Commission blocked the construction of a road through San Onofre State Park in San Diego County that would have provided an alternate route to congested Interstate 5, Southern California's main north-south artery.
The Commission delayed construction of a two-story Newport Beach office building and garage with space for two tenants because neighbors objected to the project's potential effect on traffic, noise, light, and views.[where?]
The Commission compelled residents to eliminate the basements of planned homes in Monterey because there was no way to be completely certain there were no artifacts on the sites, reversing the Monterey County Board of Supervisors' approval of the projects.
Santa Cruz city planners tried to approve 175 apartments to be built downtown adjacent to a bus station. The Commission opposed the project because of insufficient plan conformity with height and density. Commission district supervisor Ryan Maroney said the mass and scale of a building would impact the "coastal resources" of views, community character and aesthetics. The Commission halted four housing initiatives in Santa Cruz, including two 100% subsidized low-income developments.
The Commission blocked 895 homes, a hotel, and shops from being built on an Orange County oil field overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The denial was an expression of frustration with competing staff and developer proposals.
60 homes in Dana Point, CA, were endangered by landslides, so families tried to place boulders beside their homes to protect themselves. The Commission denied their petition, preferring "coastal migration."
The Commission denied the Remmenga family's petition to build a home one mile from the beach in Hollister Ranch unless the public were allowed access through their property. Alternatively, the Remmengas were given the opportunity to pay the Commission $5,000.
For 7 years the McCarthy family tried to build a home on their property in San Luis Obispo. The Commission first denied permission telling the McCarthys to relocate a path that ran through the family's property. When the family offered a route to relocate the path and offered to pay for the work, the Commission denied their petition because of impacts like “lesser views for hikers.” San Luis Obispo county gave the McCarthys a permit, but the Commission vetoed it.
A Commission investigation found the city of Long Beach guilty of pruning palm trees that contained more than one Heron bird nest. One fledgling bird was found on the ground in the vicinity of the arborists' work. The bird passed away. Proposed penalties include planting trees, more tree-trimming oversight, and fines.
The Commission said Vinod Khosla must create a public thoroughfare for beachgoers to access Martins beach on his private property. Khosla offered to sell a portion of his property to create a pathway for $30 million, less than the Commission's yearly budget of $33 million.
- Blank, Steve (June 2014). "Lessons learned in six and a half years serving on the California Coastal Commission".
- Faust, Ralph (June 2019). "This Pritzker Brief analyzes the processes and procedures that the California Coastal Commission utilizes in making "quasi-judicial decisions."". UCLA Law.
- "Some Facts About Public Prescriptive Rights" (PDF). Coastal Public Access Program. California Coastal Commission. 2001.
- "2021-22 Governor's Budget, 3720 California Coastal Commission". State of California Department of Finance. January 2021. Retrieved Feb 4, 2021.
- Coastal Act Section 30103. Coastal.ca.gov.
- California Coastal Commission, website.
- State of California Department of Finance (January 8, 2021). "California Budget". Retrieved 2021-02-04.
- "Budget Briefings". California Coastal Commission. Retrieved 2021-02-06.
- Who We Are. Coastal.ca.gov. 2011. Retrieved 28-01-2011.
- Woo, Elaine (2011-11-20). "Al Boeke dies at 88; 'father' of Northern California's Sea Ranch". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- Hevesi, Dennis (2011-11-16). "Al Boeke, Architect Who Sought Ecological Harmony, Is Dead at 88". The New York Times. Retrieved 2012-05-24.
- "Peter M. Douglas dies at 69; California Coastal Commission chief". Los Angeles Times. 4 April 2012. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
- "Publix Resources Code: Division 20. California Coastal Act. Chapter 3. Coastal Resources Planning and Management Policies". RegsToday.com. September 2012. Archived from the original on 2014-12-20. Retrieved January 19, 2021.
- "Susan Craig – Correspondence". Archived from the original on 2016-08-28. Retrieved 18 August 2016.
- "Sections 30200 - 30265.5". California Public Resources Code. Retrieved 27 May 2018.
- Holmes, Todd (April 15, 2016). "Tides of Tension". Stanford University. Retrieved 2021-03-02.
- "Proposed Budget Detail: 3720 Coastal Commission". Governor's Budget 2010-11. January 8, 2010. Archived from the original on May 28, 2010. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
- Ellison, Katherine (May 7, 2010). "Leading the Coastal Commission for 25 Years, a Crusader and Lightning Rod". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010.
- "Enacted Budget for FY 2019-20/Close-Out of FY 2018-19 Budget". California Coastal Commission Enacted Budget. August 30, 2019. Retrieved December 26, 2020.
- "Coastal Commission". Transparent California, California's largest public pay and pension database. 2021. Retrieved February 4, 2021.
- Weikel, Dan & Barboza, Tony (2 February 2016). "35 former members of California Coastal Commission oppose effort to oust executive director". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 10 February 2016.
- Coastal commission looking very green. Mike Lee. San Diego Union Tribune. 18-01-2011. Retrieved 28-01-2011.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer (2008-02-23). "In California, Coastal Commission Wields Vast Power". The New York Times.
- "PUBLIC RESOURCES CODE SECTION 30254". California Legislative Information. State of California. Retrieved June 16, 2019.
- Steinhauer, Jennifer (February 23, 2008). "In California, Coastal Commission Wields Vast Power". New York Times. Retrieved Dec 21, 2020.
- Smith, Doug (August 24, 1997). "A blow against bureaucracy: A couple who built a small house with their own hands ended up with criminal records and a $1.5-million fine, but now they've won". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2020-11-22.
- Barboza, Tony (September 10, 2013). "Bill to give Coastal Commission power to levy fines is rejected". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 7, 2014.
- "An act to amend Section 12025 of the Fish and Game Code, to amend Sections 8574.4, 8574.7, 8574.8, 8670.2, 8670.3, 8670.5, 8670.7, 8670.8, 8670.8.3, 8670.8.5, 8670.9, 8670.12, 8670.14, 8670.19, 8670.25, 8670.25.5, 8670.26, 8670.27, 8670.28, 8670.29, 8670.30.5, 8670.31, 8670.32, 8670.33, 8670.34, 8670.35, 8670.36, 8670.37, 8670.37.5, 8670.37.51, 8670.37.52, 8670.37.53, 8670.37.55, 8670.37.58, 8670.40, 8670.42, 8670.47.5, 8670.48, 8670.48.3, 8670.49, 8670.50, 8670.51, 8670.53, 8670.54, 8670.55, 8670.56.5, 8670.56.6, 8670.61.5, 8670.62, 8670.64, 8670.66, 8670.67, 8670.67.5, 8670.69.4, and 8670.71 of, to add Sections 8670.7.5, 8670.40.5, and 8670.95 to, and to repeal Section 8670.69.7 of, the Government Code, to amend Section 449 of the Harbors and Navigation Code, to amend and repeal Sections 116760.60, 116761.21, 116761.22, 116761.24, and 116761.80 of, and to amend, repeal, and add Sections 116760.10, 116760.20, 116760.30, 116760.39, 116760.40, 116760.42, 116760.43, 116760.44, 116760.46, 116760.50, 116760.55, 116760.70, 116760.79, 116760.80, 116760.90, 116761, 116761.20, 116761.23, 116761.40, 116761.50, 116761.60, 116761.62, 116761.65, 116761.70, 116761.85, 116762.60, and 131110 of, and to add Section 116271 to, the Health and Safety Code, to amend Sections 541.5, 2705, 3160, 3161, 4629.5, 4629.6, 4629.7, 4629.8, 5009, 5010.6, 5010.6.5, 5010.7, 14507.5, 14552, 14581, 21190, 31012, 42476, 42872.1, 42885.5, 42889, 48653, and 71116 of, to add Sections 14581.1 and 30821 to, to add Division 12.5 (commencing with Section 17000) to, and to add and repeal Article 1.5 (commencing with Section 5019.10) of Chapter 1 of Division 5 of, the Public Resources Code, to amend Sections 379.6, 1807, and 2851 of the Public Utilities Code, to amend Sections 46002, 46006, 46007, 46010, 46013, 46017, 46023, 46028, and 46101 of, to add Section 46001.5 to, to repeal Sections 46008, 46014, 46015, 46016, 46019, 46024, and 46025 of, and to repeal and add Sections 46011, 46018, and 46027 of, the Revenue and Taxation Code, to amend Section 5024 of the Vehicle Code, and to amend Sections 10783 and 13272 of, to amend, repeal, and add Sections 174, 13350, 13478, and 13485 of, and to add Section 13528.5 to, the Water Code, relating to public resources, and making an appropriation therefor, to take effect immediately, bill related to the budget". California Office of Legislative Counsel. Retrieved 4 June 2019.
- Barboza, Tony (June 30, 2014) "Blocking Californians' beach access will soon carry a hefty fine" Los Angeles Times
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- Hixon, Michael (2021-02-16). "Hermosa Beach boutique inn project featuring historic bungalow approved by Coastal Commission". Daily Breeze.
The California Coastal Act, according to the CCC staff report, The Coastal Commission, according to a staff report, has in the past required new, typically high-end hotels to ensure that 25% of bookings are offered at lower-cost rates so “overnight accommodations in the Coastal Zone are available at a range of price points.” “The proposed development is a small, boutique hotel and due to economic constraints,” the staff report says, “the applicant is not feasibly able to provide on-site lower-cost rooms.” Instead, the developers will pay a $150,000 fee that, according to the staff report, will go into an interest-bearing account that the California State Coastal Conservancy will use to provide lower-cost overnight accommodations, from hotel rooms to campgrounds, in Hermosa Beach or elsewhere along the Los Angeles County coast.
- The Role of Local Governments. Coastal.ca.gov. 2011. Retrieved 10-05-2011.
- Wisckol, Martin (2020-06-11). "Coastal Commission approves $1.7 million in fines for illegal beach yards in Newport Beach". Orange County Register.
The beachfront homeowners on Peninsula Point, on the east end of the Balboa Peninsula, had earlier agreed to pay the penalties pending commission approval. Individual fines range from $6,300 to $134,000 per home while the city has agreed to spend an estimated $545,000 to restore the stretch of beach to its natural state.
- "IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT DIVISION THREE, 11 LAGUNITA, LLC et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, Defendant and Appellant". The Court Of Appeal Of The State Of California Fourth Appellate District Division Three. December 12, 2020. Retrieved 2021-01-05.
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- "STAFF REPORT: Recommendations and Findings for Consent Cease and Desist Order No. CCC-20-CD-03 and Consent Restoration Order No. CCC-20-RO-02" (PDF). California Coastal Commission. October 16, 2020. Retrieved 2020-12-26.
- Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (Supreme Court of the United States 1987).
- CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION, et al., Appellants, v. GRANITE ROCK COMPANY, 480 U.S. 572 (Supreme Court of the United States 1987).
- "Ritz-Carlton Hotel fined for blocking access to public beaches at Half Moon Bay". Los Angeles Times. Associated Press. June 14, 2019. Retrieved 2019-06-16.
- "STAFF REPORT: RECOMMENDATIONS AND FINDINGS FOR CONSENT CEASE AND DESIST ORDER, CONSENT RESTORATION ORDER, AND CONSENT ADMINISTRATIVE CIVIL PENALTY" (PDF). California Coastal Commission. March 29, 2018. Retrieved 2020-12-26.
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