Sea level rise dominated the California Coastal Commission (CCC) meeting in December, while other, long-standing issues were also addressed and finally resolved.
The Commission met at King Gillette Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains the same week that a new report from the state Legislative Analyst’s Office was released stressing the need for quick action over the next decade to prevent catastrophic sea level rise losses over the next 80 years.
The report cautions that coastal communities aren’t moving fast enough to address the risk. On the California Coast, current projections estimate at least six inches of sea level rise by 2030, and potentially as much as seven feet by 2100. An estimated $8-$10 billion in property losses and infrastructure damage could be at risk by 2050.
The Commission received an update on sea level rise vulnerability in the Los Angeles County area on the first day of the three-day meeting. CCC Executive Director Jack Ainsworth stated that addressing the looming crisis is the coastal agency’s most urgent need. He also warned that most coastal communities are unprepared. “We have to pull together,” he said.
It’s a thorny issue. During public comment on the third day of the meeting, the Nature Conservancy gave a presentation on its new sea level rise adaptation pilot program that includes a framework for community meetings to discuss managed retreat—relocating away from the risk.
The Conservancy program includes a new virtual reality component that enables viewers to experience area-wide and site-specific sea level rise in 3D. The developers of the program stated that this tool is intended to help stakeholders more effectively visualize the risk and better understand why retreating away from the threat may be the only option in some areas.
Longtime Malibu resident Carl Randall and Malibu City Councilmember Jefferson Wagner spoke during public comment on the issue. They both advocated for artificial reefs as a potential way to reverse or at least slow sand loss at local beaches as sea levels rise.
A Surfrider Foundation spokesperson asked for increased funding and for better cross-agency communication. “Coastal communities must pick up the pace,” was the message.
Santa Monica Shore Hotel. After a lengthy debate, the Commission voted 7 to 5 to approve the after-the-fact permits for the Santa Monica Shore Hotel. The commissioners negotiated with the lawyer for the hotel to require 72 “moderately priced rooms” ($180 a night, instead of $265-$800 a night). The hotel will also waive resort fees and limit parking costs for the lower-cost rooms. The hotel developer, Sunshine Enterprises, was fined a record $15.6 million penalty for violating the Coastal Act, after demolishing two lower-cost hotels without a permit and replacing them with a luxury boutique hotel.
The property owners agreed to also pay a $2.3 million mitigation fee. Several commissioners expressed anger at the owners and the process that enabled them to flaunt state law.
CCC Changes. The gavel changed hands at the December meeting. Chula Vista City Councilmember Steve Padilla, the vice chair of the Commission, was elected to replace outgoing Chair Dayna Bochco. This is Padilla’s second stint on the Coastal Commission. He served from 2005-2007 before being reappointed by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.
The vote to make Padilla chair was unanimous. In addition to his long service as a city councilmember in his San Diego community, Padilla is the first openly gay chair of the CCC. Donne Brownsey, an attorney and the former senior vice president of the lobbying firm, Sacramento Advocates Inc., was elected vice chair. She was appointed to the Commission by Governor Jerry Brown in 2017.
Malibu Bluffs Campground. The December meeting ended with a field trip to Malibu Bluffs Park Open Space, where Mountain Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) Executive Director Joe Edmiston revealed plans to build a campground on a mesa at the western end of the park.
The proposal would include tent pads and yurts, and permanent housing for a ranger. The facility would prioritize use by organizations serving foster youth but would also potentially be open to the public at certain times. Food service would be provided by food trucks. The area of the park where the campground is proposed is the only part that is not mapped as a designated Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Area (ESHA).
Ecological constraints prevented the City of Malibu from building the recreational facilities it sought in the park and ultimately led to the open space being returned to the state earlier this year, in exchange for the return of Charmlee Wilderness Park to Malibu control, ending a still-controversial park swap.
Edmiston explained that the Bluffs Park camping proposal replaces a more ambitious plan to build a campground in Puerco Canyon’s Cameron Wilderness Park. That plan received a major setback when the price tag for a fire department-mandated road to the proposed campsite came in at $11 million.
The Coastal Commissions meets monthly in a different city or area up and down the Coastal Zone. For more information, visit https://www.coastal.ca.gov.