Friday, January 20, 2012
January CA Coastal Commission Report
|Photo: California Coastal Commission|
The January Coastal Commission meeting was interesting and unique on a few levels. There was one item on the agenda that spurred passionate debate. There were other items that called for progressive thinking about costal issues. And on the last day of the meetings, the Commission took a rare field trip to analyze public access along the coastline around Los Angeles. In this report, we will focus on a few agenda items that apply to Surfrider Foundation’s mission statement.
Probably one of the most interesting aspects of the meeting came from an elaborate Staff presentation on a report about public access. As way of background, the Coastal Act mandates public access along the coast and sets strict requirements for any development projects along the coast to provide public access.
The Staff report focused primarily on public access ways in San Diego, Orange, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and San Luis Obispo Counties. The report found that Los Angeles County greatly lags behind other counties in southern California for providing public access. The report illustrated that 60% of the 111 areas of land the Commission has required landowners to provide access from San Diego to San Luis Obispo counties have been built and opened, compared with 38% in L.A. County. San Diego and Orange counties scored the best, with 85% and 73% of their agreed-upon pathways completed. To view the report go here:
Violations Against Coastal And Archeological Resources:
In my opinion, the most fascinating item on the agenda was a cease and desist order to the Goodell family to:
1.) stop unpermitted development, including but not limited to excavation and deposition of excavated soil; 2) stabilize excavated areas; 3) arrange for Native American monitors to oversee all work conducted pursuant to these Consent Orders; 4) screen excavated soil for cultural and archaeological materials; 5) protect in place, document, and rebury all cultural and archaeological materials encountered during work conducted pursuant to these Consent Orders; 6) stop maintaining existing unpermitted development consisting of excavations, excavated soil, and any associated results thereof, on property located east of the intersection of Brightwater Drive and Bolsa Chica Street.
In a nutshell, the Bolsa Chica mesa contains massive archeological assets (part of them are contained on the Goodell property). This 9,000-year-old archeological area contains artifacts and is also considered extremely sacred among Native Americans because it contains a burial site. The Goodell family took it upon themselves to dig 16 pits to explore the land (without a permit)—and called it “a mistake”. When the Coastal Commission found out about the illegal digging they issued a cease and desist. It’s unfortunate the family ruined the integrity of the archeological site, and to make matters worse, they also caused harm to coastal resources by subjecting the land to undue erosion from all the digging (which is why Surfrider paid attention to this issue).
The CCC Staff presented their findings and in addition to recommending the above actions, they proposed a mitigation fee of $130,000. This fee was based on the lowest fine possible for the combined 16 infractions. The Commission agreed with Staff’s recommendations, but there was no way they were going to agree on the mitigation fee! Commissioner Sanchez was very vocal about her disappointment in the Goodell family’s violations. She said she felt the $130,000 was an insult. Chair Shellenberger said that it’s hard to believe this was a mistake—anybody who has read the LA Times over the past decade knows the area has archeological significance. Commissioner Bloom declared that anyone who harms archeological resources on public or private land must be held accountable.
After much debate about the mitigation fee, Commission asked Staff to take a break and figure out the maximum amount for fines. After a long break, Staff returned to clarify the highest amount for unintentional violations would be $430,000 (based on the 16 pits dug). They suggested this be the fine since it’s challenging to prove the act was intentional. The fee for an intentional violation is $480,000. Commissioner Sanchez once again spoke out about the injustice and said that she thinks the family should pay a half a million dollars to “make things right”. Since the Commissioners had no hard evidence the violations were intentional, the motion was to fine the family the maximum penalty for unintentional violations. The Commission adopted the motion, but Commissioner Sanchez cast a dissenting vote saying she didn’t believe it was unintentional and they should pay $500,000. After the vote was approved, the Commission concluded by saying violations this egregious will be taken seriously—and they hope the high mitigation deters people from committing these types of actions in the future.
Amendment of Local Coastal Plan (LCP):
One of the most encouraging agenda items came from the City of Manhattan Beach to amend their LCP. This was exciting because the amendment included new regulations to address sustainable development—including water efficient landscaping, green roofs and decks, and renewable energy. Surfirder applauds the City of Manhattan Beach in taking steps to address water waste and improve energy efficiency.
Offshore Oil Drilling and Exploration Issue:
Another positive aspect of the meeting came when Santa Barbara County requested to amend a portion of its Local Coastal Program to clarify that hydraulic fracturing of existing or new wells is not a permitted use under exploration and is subject to approval of a Production Plan, Coastal Development Permit, and in some zone districts, a Conditional Use Permit.
This amendment added language to the LCP that reaffirmed fracturing is not a permitted used for exploration/production, and if it is conducted, it must be described in a permit application. This is a positive step to ensuring that hydraulic fracturing is closely monitored. The Western States Petroleum Association presented testimony in regards to the item. The spokesperson said they were not there to testify against it, but attended the hearing to say hydraulic fracturing can be done safely. Commission voted unanimously to add clarity to the LCP.
Shoreline Armoring Issue:
The next issue we monitored was an application of Tu Casa HOA for maintenance of existing revetment to include returning dislodged rocks back on revetment, after-the-fact approval. Surfrider is always curious to watch revetment projects becasue we are concerned about coastal armoring since it ultimately interferes with the natural flow of sand to our beaches. This project however was a straightforward case in which the applicant was fixing “Pre Coastal Act” revetment. The project called for relocating rocks away from public access. Commission Staff said the maintenance was not classified a realignment and therefore it’s not considered a new project—Commission agreed and voted unanimously to approve. This was a win-win…less revetment and more public access.
Stay tuned for Surfrider’s February report on the Coastal Commission…