Green Light: The California Coastal Commission: My Likes and Dislikes

By Tom Osborne

By Tom Osborne

Recently I spent two 10-12-hour days at the California Coastal Commission meeting in Long Beach’s City Council Chambers.  Had my schedule permitted, I would have attended the third and final day of that meeting. I attended because of my growing interest in protecting the Golden State’s magnificent 1,100-mile coast from development-driven pollution (think Aliso Creek ocean outfall) and assuring public access to beaches. I attended for another reason as well. I am beginning a book project on the history of the CCC and Peter Douglas’s role as executive director of that quasi-judicial agency from 1985-2011.

A short list of the things I liked included:

  • The opportunity for public input.  Some 200 citizens of Venice Beach attended, and it seemed as if they all testified on the hot issue of overnight visitor parking and camping in residential neighborhoods.  The ethnic and cultural diversity of their community was much in evidence. One woman, a poet, testified entirely in verse; others in her group unfurled a large banner denouncing a measure to ban overnight parking in neighborhoods.  Full of passion about the Venice vibe, referencing the community’s reputation for being free-spirited and inclusive, the self-proclaimed Venetians regaled commissioners with anecdotal pleas to defend public access to local beaches day and night.
  • The evidence that commissioners listened to public testimony.  The Venice agenda item consumed nearly five hours.  In their observations, commissioners demonstrated a remarkable recalling of public comments.  Commissioner Esther Sanchez recounted a dozen key points made by speakers in the audience, while pointing out the legal ramifications of the most pertinent arguments.  When public comments ended, Chairwoman Mary K. Shallenberger, who was invariably courteous and as patient as Job while keeping deliberations on track, told the filled chamber how much the commissioners appreciated the heartfelt offerings of the vast majority in the room. At the same time, she expressed a clear understanding of why residents were frustrated and angry about the noise and clutter they had to contend with due to seemingly homeless visitors camping in front of houses.  Commissioners then voted to not ban overnight visitor parking in Venice until an empirically based study could determine whether public beach access would be infringed by such a ban.  The thought crossed my mind about how fortunate we are in Laguna Beach to have facilities for feeding the homeless and providing a safe haven for them to sleep at night.
  • The seeming impartiality of the Commission in balancing competing interests.  When the City of Long Beach proposed enlarging a dog park along a stretch of oceanfront both sides of the issue were heard and afterward debated in the discussion among commissioners.  Concerns about pet litter, dog fights, and the disturbance of beachgoers were aired; commissioners agreed to the extension of the dog park only if specified conditions addressing these matters could be met.
  • The Commission’s unanimous approval of Laguna Beach’s amended local coastal program to include sea-rise protocols regarding flood hazards, and to uphold our town’s 36-foot height limit.  I testified in favor of granting this approval.
  • The inclusivity of CCC excursions and receptions.  I and others from the public were invited on an after-meeting boat tour of the Long Beach-Los Angeles Harbor complex, America’s largest.  Afterward, the public was treated to a CCC-sponsored reception at the Aquarium of the Pacific where we watched the inspiring documentary, “Heroes of the Coast.”  This is a must-see for Laguna’s ocean-lovers.

A list of things I did not like was short, indeed:

  • I was saddened to learn that Commissioner Esther Sanchez was not reappointed by Assembly Speaker John Pérez, whom I have since emailed expressing my dismay.  Sanchez, a lawyer, had often crossed politically influential developers, intimated the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper.

The CCC’s business, I realized, concerns all Californians.

Tom Osborne, a recipient of Laguna Beach’s Environmental Award, recently published Pacific Eldorado: A History of Greater California (Wiley-Blackwell Publishers, 2013).

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