For the California Coastal Commission and for the citizens along the California coast — which is sometimes as much as five miles inland — 2011 could be a year of change.
There are 12 commissioners who typically serve as the final arbiters of what happens along California’s scenic coastline. Whether you’re an individual, a corporation, a city, a county or a special district, the commissioners have your fate in their hands.
What makes 2011 different is that eight of those 12 commissioners are up for appointment.
The governor’s four appointments serve at his pleasure and have no set term. All four were appointed by Arnold Schwarzenegger and could be replaced by Gov. Brown whenever he wants.
Two Senate Rules Committee appointments expire on May 20, 2011, and Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, a Democrats, get to make the new appointments. Two of the four Assembly appointments also expire on May 20, 2011 and Speaker John Perez will decide those.
With these many seats opening up, the lobbying has been fierce and the accusations flying.
Once again, former Senate Leader John Burton, who publicly took Commissioner Sara Wan to task recently for snatching the commission’s top job, defended himself against accusations that he was pro-developer. Burton, now the head of the state Democratic Party, defended his environmental record and noted that there are many environmentalists along the coast that are qualified to sit on the Commission. His clear implication: The small groups of commissioners that presently control the commission are not indispensable for the protection of the coast. The issue involved is more then just conflicting personalities or even conflicting environmental agendas.
The issue is who gets to control the local land use. Should control rest with the localities where the land is located, or should it reside with the state, in the form of the California Coastal Commission? Over the years the commission has added to its power of control, frequently at the expense of local governments and individuals.
We appear to be entering a new era where the governor has indicated that many of the things that the state does are going to be pushed down to local governments. In reality, that’s never going to happen as long as there are super agencies like the Coastal Commission who have no intention of letting go of any part of their control.
A sample case in point is the battle brewing this week at the coastal commission meeting where Edge, a member of the U2 band, and several of his friends and associates who all own separate legal parcels in Malibu, are coming up for coastal permits.
The developments have been in the process for several years and modified several times at the commission staff’s suggestion. This time, the staff (which generally means the executive director, Peter Douglas, the 25-plus year major domo of the Coastal Commission) recommended that the project be denied.
The reasons for denial are denial are classic Peter Douglas. For one thing the staff is recommending that the permit be denied for potential visual impacts. Translated into English, that means you can see the houses from some road, therefore the view of passersby is interrupted and therefore there should be no house. That apparently leaves the alternative of an underground house or an earth covered Hogin which is precisely the type of limitation that drives people crazy.
Another new twist is that the commission staff has said that all five separately owned legal lots, which under the local coastal plan each have building rights, should actually be treated as one large parcel because of the “unity of ownerships.” In Coastal speak, that means they count as a sole unit because the five owners, as the staff says, have “close familial, business or social relationships.”
I suspect that the coastal staff believes the five constitute a plan, a plot, a cabal, a conspiracy or whatever. By their proposed definition, for example, if a father and son were to purchase adjoining legal lots, the Coastal Commission might decide the two adjacent lots together should be treated as one lot because of the familial relationship.
It will be interesting to see what the commission will do when they hear it this week. All the commissioners know the heat is on and now everyone is watching.
There isn’t any question that the coast needs protecting but do we really need a commission that is constantly in everyone’s face? The coastal act attempted a careful balance between coastal protection and local control. Historically the commission has enforced the portion of the act they like coastal protection and ignored the portion they don’t, local control.
It’s time for the appointing authorities to try and restore the balance by selecting some new people to the commission to assure a broader point of view. The tension that a more varied commission will provide is good, because it acts as a check and balance against excess by one side or the other.