AB 250 Raises a Red Flag to Conservation Activists

A view of Topanga Ranch Motel across the Pacific Coast Highway from Topanga Beach. Hopes to restore the area have been dashed because of costs and other restoration projects. Today the area remains fenced off and boarded up. Photo taken from 2012365×3.wordpress.com

How much will low-cost lodging intrude into California’s pristine and protected public lands along the coastline and the Santa Monica Mountains and how long will affordable accommodations remain affordable before becoming a building boom?

A California Assembly Bill intended to create affordable overnight accommodations along the coast is instead generating a groundswell of opposition from conservation activists who fear it will open the door for irresponsible development in areas that have been off-limits for commercial development.

AB 250, which is co-authored by state Senator Henry Stern, is intended to facilitate the construction of hotels, hostels, cabins and campsites in the Coastal Zone, including the Santa Monica Mountains.

Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher (D-San Diego), who introduced the bill, is calling for the State Coastal Conservancy (SCC) to investigate ways to improve existing and create new low-cost lodging within 1.5 miles of the coast. 

The text of the bill states: “A lack of affordable accommodations remains a barrier to coastal access.” 

A 2016 California Coastal Commission (CCC) study found the state has lost nearly 25,000 economy-rate rooms in coastal counties since 1989 as real estate in those communities have become increasingly expensive.

AB 250 requires SCC to prepare a “lower cost coastal accommodations” assessment that includes a description of specific opportunities to improve existing and develop new lower-cost accommodations on coastal public lands and coastal lands owned or operated by nonprofit organizations.

According to the text of the document, eligible lands include state, regional and local parks, lands held by specified special districts, lands owned by the public but not yet converted to parks, lands owned by nonprofits, as well as national parks and other federally managed lands.

This provision has raised the red flag for local conservation groups, including the Las Virgenes Homeowners Federation (LVHF), whose President, Kim Lamorie told the Messenger Mountain News that the bill is flawed. 

 “We’re already pressed on all sides by developers and now they want to further fragment the habitat we’ve worked to protect,” Lamorie said. “We should not be turning protected habitat over to developers to build hotels.”

AB 250 would also authorize the SCC to create a pilot program to purchase existing lower-cost accommodations and operate those accommodations through leases or operating agreements with qualified regional or local park agencies, concessionaires, or nonprofit organizations; purchase and resell existing accommodations to willing buyers, including private entities; and provide loans, grants or other financial assistance to private entities for purposes of acquiring or improving accommodations.

The bill would also authorize the Coastal Commission to reclaim any in-lieu fee that has not been expended within seven years of its deposit and reassign any such fee for use for one or more lower cost coastal accommodation and visitor-serving facilities projects. “In-lieu fee” means any fee paid as a condition for issuance of a coastal development permit to mitigate impacts associated with the development of lower cost coastal visitor-serving projects.

Topanga is already familiar with that debate. Plans to refurbish the Topanga Ranch Motel, acquired by the state through eminent domain, stalled over costs and the structures’ potential historic designation. Money initially earmarked for the restoration project, including a two million in lieu fee promised as part of a development agreement for a Malibu subdivision, was eventually diverted to other projects. In the early 20th century, the site was a campground known as Casper’s Camp and later, one of the first modern motels in the area. Today, it remains fenced off and boarded-up.

Lamorie said she would like to see the bill revised to ensure that, in the rush to create coastal zone accommodations, key habitat and the wildlife that depends on it isn’t accidentally compromised by a building boom, and that wildfire risks are adequately addressed. “We need to keep the mountains wild,” she said. “We have to prevent habitat loss and fragmentation.”

AB 250 passed the Assembly on a 67-7 vote, and was approved by the Senate Natural Resources and Water Committee by a vote of 7-1 and is expected to be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee later this month.

To contact Senator Henry Stern: http://sd27.senate.ca.gov/contact.

To contact Assemblymember Richard Bloom: https://a50.asmdc.org.


Suzanne Guldimann

Suzanne Guldimann is an author, artist, and musician who lives in Malibu and loves the Santa Monica Mountains. She has worked as a journalist reporting on local news and issues for more than a decade, and is the author of nine books of music for the harp. Suzanne's newest book, "Life in Malibu", explores local history and nature. She can be reached at suzanne@messengermountainnews.com

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