The case stems from the commission’s reading of the Coastal Act which governs the hundreds of miles of California coastline requires the coast be accessible to all Californians. The act also requires a certain number of affordable accommodation units along the coast so it can be enjoyed by visitors of all socioeconomic backgrounds.
San Diego Superior Judge Ronald Styn found the commission wrongfully denied the Port of San Diego’s request to authorize an amendment to its master plan to include a hotel project by Sunroad Marina Partners on Harbor Island in San Diego because the project lacked lower-cost visitor and public recreational opportunities, including overnight accommodations.
But in its 45-page unpublished opinion issued Sept. 7, the Fourth Appellate District reversed Styn’s order and remanded.
The three-judge panel found Styn “engaged in an impermissibly broad interpretation of a provision of the act barring commission from modifying a master plan amendment as a condition of certification.”
Styn had found the conditions imposed on the Port District by the Coastal Commission “infringed on the wide discretion afforded to the district to determine the contents of land use plans and how to implement these plans.”
But the appellate court ruled Styn incorrectly cited cases involving local coastal programs (LCPs) implemented by specific cities or counties and the broad land-use authority granted to those entities.
“Though district is an independent governmental entity existing under state law, neither district nor Sunroad cite authority for the proposition that it falls within the specifically defined category of a local government such that the limitations on commission’s authority with respect to LCP’s apply,” the panel wrote.
“We decline to rewrite the law so as to extend those statutory restrictions on commission’s jurisdiction over LCP’s to port district master plans governed by chapter 8 of the act.”
The Coastal Commission twice rejected the port’s proposed amendment to its master plan, noting at its May 2017 public hearing on the matter low-cost visitor accommodations within the district was only at 3 percent. It found the port’s plan needed to identify rooms that could be low cost and “actually provide overnight accommodations that are affordable for people.”
In finding the commission did not exceed its jurisdiction in denying certification of the port’s proposed amendment, the panel said it gave “expansive interpretation” to the public access provisions of the Coastal Act.
“Commission did not conditionally approve certification, but denied it on grounds the proposed amendment did not further the act’s public access policies or contain sufficient specificity or detail to permit it to find it complied with those policies, including the Act’s mandate that ‘lower cost visitor . . . facilities shall be . . . provided.’”
Not only does the Coastal Commission determine if master plans comply with the Coastal Act, the appellate panel found, but whether the plans carry the act out.
“Commission is empowered to not only determine whether a master plan amendment conforms with the act’s policies, but that it carries out those policies. It exercises its independent judgment as to whether district’s proposed amendment reflects ‘actual compliance’ with state standards and policies,” according to the panel.
Louise Warren, deputy chief counsel for the commission, said in a statement: “This decision affirms the Coastal Commission’s broad authority to review port master plan amendments for their consistency with the Coastal Act. The court specifically found that there was adequate support for commission’s denial of this port master plan amendment based on its failure to ensure the provision of lower cost overnight accommodations in the port.”
Port of San Diego commissioners discussed the case during closed session Wednesday, but a spokeswoman said “nothing reportable” came out of the meeting.