California Nixes Coastal Commission Changes

     SACRAMENTO (CN) – A plan to usurp the California Coastal Commission’s authority and hold local governments responsible for enforcing the state’s celebrated Coastal Act was shot down Monday by an Assembly committee.
     The overarching legislation by Republican Assemblyman Brian Jones proposed giving cities “exclusive authority” to regulate the state’s voter-approved Coastal Act, which governs coastal development and ensures public beach access.
     Jones, who represents sections of San Diego County, said Assembly Bill 2648 would “lighten the commission’s workload” and give decision-making power to local authorities who have “superior expertise.”
     Members of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee blasted Jones’ assertions, and environmental groups testified that AB 2648 would decimate the Coastal Act and create a path for the development of California’s majestic coast.
     Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Scotts Valley, said the proposal was unnecessary and reminded Jones it was voters who created the commission via Proposition 20 in 1972 to regulate coastline development.
     “The expectation of the people of California is that [the coastline] is a protected statewide interest,” Stone said.
     Stone said local governments already have more authority and voice in the commission than other state agencies.
     Environmental groups, including the California Coastal Protection Network and the Sierra Club, united in opposition to the bill.
     Amy Trainer of the California Coastal Protection Network said AB 2648 would “gut the Coastal Act,” and that the commission’s resumé speaks for itself.
     “Our coast today supports a $40 billion-plus economy, largely dependent on our free public access,” Trainer testified. “We think that this could open up the door to a race-to-the-bottom mentality and lead to unplanned and uncoordinated development.”
     The commission voted unanimously last week to oppose Jones’ bill and reiterated Monday that California’s coast is a vital resource that must be protected by the 12-member panel.
     “If this bill were to pass, it would essentially turn the entire coastal management program on its head,” said Sarah Christie, commission legislative director.
     Jones countered by saying his bill does not weaken the Coastal Act and is simply meant to empower local communities.
     “If you believe, like I do, that government best serves the people when it is diffused with more power in the hands of local communities then vote yes,” Jones implored the committee.
     The California Association of Realtors was the lone group to testify in support of Jones’ bill, which received just two yes votes from the committee.
     The commission came under fire from lawmakers and environmentalists after its unpopular decision to oust former executive director Charles Lester in February. Environmentalists and legislators have urged the commission to conduct a nationwide search for its next executive director.
     Several lawmakers have joined Jones in pushing changes to the commission, including a proposal to close a lobbying loophole and force consultants attempting to influence commission decisions to register with the state as lobbyists.
     That proposal, Assembly Bill 2002, which cleared the Natural Resources Committee on Monday, would force lobbyists to disclose their salary and clients. Lawmakers are seeking to close a loophole that allows lobbyists to petition the panel without registering with the secretary of state.
     Stone said it’s important to tighten the screws on lobbying to increase public transparency, and the bill won’t prevent the average resident or business owner from approaching the commission.
     “It’s not going to have a chilling effect at all on getting information to commission staff,” Stone said. “It’s just those interactions between the individuals whose job it is to influence decisions of the commission and the commissioners themselves who are the decision makers, that’s who we’re getting at here.”

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