Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Category: California Coastal Commission

Musings on the Recent Coup at the California Coastal Commission.

 

Those who know me know that many years ago I played a role in the fight to protect coastal resources. As chief counsel to the initiative created California Coastal Commission, I managed the development permit process and wrote most of the Governmental Powers and Funding element of California Plan from which the California Coastal Program emerged from the legislature in 1976.

That program consisted of three parts. The first part was to reconstitute the California Coastal Commission with significantly expanded jurisdiction and very specific rules and standards with which to regulate new development.

The second part created a new entity, the California Coastal Conservancy because some resources were too valuable to be left to the vagaries of a regulatory process and their preservation often inconsistent with the mandates and programmatic requirements of the state’s park and wildlife acquisition agencies and finally to restore those resources where pre-existing development damaged or degraded them.

The third element was a bond act to fund the Conservancy and the other land acquisition agencies.

Following completion of the Plan, I joined the legislature as a staff consultant to a Special Senate Committee on Land Use. When the original bill we had drafted reflecting the plan faltered I served as staff for then-Senator Jerry Smith and worked to successfully shepherd all three elements of the plan the program through the legislative process.

Later, I became the first Executive Officer of the Coastal Conservancy and when I left and went into private practice, I sometimes represented, as an attorney, those to whom the markedly increased value we had created for those who obtain a coastal development permit was irresistible.

I write the foregoing as background and evidence that I have some experience in coastal matters that enables me to comment and analyze the importance of the political coup that has recently occurred reflected by the removal of the Commission’s Executive director Dr. Charles Lester who I do not know and about whose competency I have no opinion.

Some have said the coup benefits the development community at the expense of coastal resources. That is undeniably true, but its import more sinister.

The Coastal Commission has been remarkably effective in carrying out its mandate to assure that new development does not irreparably damage irreplaceable environmental and recreational resources along the coast. It is, however, also notable and often missed that, among governmental agencies, its process up until now has been remarkably open to all and free of secret influence and collusion.

Since its creation, the Commission has adopted ever increasingly strict regulations on disclosure and the behavior of all the participants in the process including the staff and the commission itself. Decision making has been brought out into the public arena.

True, I and others have at times criticized the Commission for notable failures to protect a specific resource or the staff for callous behavior and its tendency to avoid preserving or restoring a resource where it could in favor of simply denying development, but on the whole, the process seems to work and has grown over the years to be relatively free of corruption and political influence despite the public fishbowl in which it is forced to operate and the financial strength and political power of many of the interests involved .

Those seeking permits had to rely on those knowledgeable about the Commission’s procedures and provide generally technically competent information to the Commission. The Commission Staff, in turn, had to develop the ability to analyze the information and present their conclusions in public. Communications from those trying to influence Commissioners were disclosed. The public had access to the information and reasonable confidence in the independence and competency of the process.

Now, at least for the largest of development interests, I fear this action to remove the Executive Director has pulled the real decision making back to Sacramento where accountability is often hidden; where money talks and not technical analysis; where laws can be ignored in return for favors.

The Governor, Jerry Brown, cannot continue to deny complicity in this. He has simply chosen bad old government corruption and secrecy over open government.

Is this the end of the Coastal Commission as an effective guardian of the Coast? Certainly it opens the way for the largest and most destructive of developers to have their way with those coastal resources remaining in private hands.

As for the Coastal Program as a whole, it is in generally good shape. For the past 40 years, vast amounts of critical resource lands have been removed from the vagaries of the regulatory process where David Brower once told me, “All our victories are temporary and all out defeats permanent.” Local communities, land trusts, and state agencies have begun the process of restoring those resources on public lands damaged by pre-existing development.

Once during the battle for passage of the various pieces of Coastal Legislation a legislator asked me, “I fly all over California and when I look down I see lots and lots of wild natural lands why do you want to stop development on this little bit?”

“That’s just the point,” I responded. “With all that land, much of it not particularly sensitive, why do you want to build on this irreplaceable resource?”

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More Thoughts about the California Coastal Commission

A few years ago I spent two days with Stevie and Norbert Dall. Norbert is busy trying to write the definitive history or California’s coastal protection legislation. The amount of research he has done amazed me as did his memory of people, places and events during those times( over 30 years ago). I believe that Norbert and Stevie are probably along with Peter Douglass and perhaps Bill Geyer and Ruth Galanter the people with the longest continuous involvement with the coastal protection movement in California. In Ruth and Bill’s cases, however, for the past decade or so they have become much less involved.

As for Peter Douglass, but for the last 20 years or so controversial years as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, his impact on the course of things coastal has been mostly in his own mind. Peter was, by far, the earliest of all of those who have spent at least portions of their careers in coastal protection. He worked as an aid to Senator Siroty during the failed attempts in the late 60’s and early 70’s to push coastal protection legislation through the legislature. He later attempted to take un-justified credit for drafting the initiative, known as Proposition 20 that was successfully passed by the California voters in 1972 and set up an agency to plan the future land use of the coast and regulate development so as not to impede implementation of the plan. During the period of Proposition 20, while I served as Chief Counsel for the Commission, as far as I could tell Peter’s involvement in either the planning or the ongoing regulation was almost nonexistent.

Following completion of the Coastal Plan in 1975 and the submittal of the proposed implementation legislation to the legislature, most of us active at that time were determined to keep Peter as far away from any decision-making and participation as possible. Nearly all of us believed that not only was he incapable of understanding the complexities of the Plan, the legislation and the political strategy that was developed, but he had shown a distressing tendency to urge weakening of the protections whenever opposition presented itself. I had assigned on of the Commission’s staff members to sit with him every day and make sure he did nothing more that edit the legislation.

After the passage of the entire Coastal Program, Peter again disappeared from any involvement and for a while busied himself in an unsuccessful attempt to find work in the private sector. Ultimately he took a job as a not so respected member of the reconstituted Coastal Commission staff. Finding himself ignored, he resumed his search for other work when a series of unfortunate events, including resignation of the existing executive director, he, to the dismay of many in the environmental community, was chosen to succeed the departing director.

Over several years of ineffective management, his removal many on all sides of the development process urged his removal. Fortunately for Peter, the development community, through the inept handling of the move to remove him by the then Republican Governor, pushed the most radical members of the environmental community to rally around him and defeat the putsch, and Peter the Wishy-Washy seeing which side of his bread was buttered was reborn as an anti-development crusader.

Urban Waterfront Design Principles

The following adapts an article I had written over 20 years ago. I believe its main points remain valid today.

INTRODUCTION*

English: The Santa Monica Pier and beach in Sa...

The Santa Monica Pier and beach in Santa Monica, California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Regrettably, where people have settled on the coast, habitations, work places, and leisure places have too often ignored the fundamental aspects of the coastal environment.  The result has been architecture and urban development that all too frequently has not harmonized with its unique surroundings. Visual clutter and ecological insensitivity characterizes much of the development along America’s coastlines.

Of particular concern are the urban edges, where cities meet the sea. In California, over two-thirds of the state’s population resides in two coastal urban centers: the San Francisco Bay Area and the Los Angeles Basin. In these and other coastal urban areas, the competition for waterfront space and the need for public access to the shore exacerbate the problems of past haphazard development and present deterioration.

The problems of the urban waterfront match its potential— in the urban coastal environment, the varied physical contexts and multiplicity of needs make design a challenge and an opportunity. In contrast, design for undeveloped rural areas on the coast must take into account fewer but more, obvious considerations, such as the impact of development on views, sensitive habits, landforms, and traffic circulation.

This paper discusses some principles of urban coastal design that will hopefully guide architects, designers and planners through the process of preparing development plans. The principles are general; they are meant as building blocks. California’s efforts in coastal design development where relevant, reflect the author’s experience.

California’s Coastal Program

For the past fourteen years, the California has regulated design and development in the coastal zone, a band of land that stretches from Oregon to Mexico and extends from a few city blocks inland to as much as five miles from the shore. In 1972, California’s voters approved a citizen-initiated referendum, Proposition 20, intended to protect the state’s coastal resources. In 1976, Proposition 20 led to the adoption by the Legislature of a program for the protection and enhancement of the California coast. The creation of an agency to plan and regulate coastal development, the Coastal Commission, and one to restore coastal resources, the Coastal Conservancy, were the two most prominent features of that program.

Urban Waterfronts

In 1981 the Legislature expanded that program by adopting the “Urban Waterfront Act of 1981” and authorizing the State Coastal Conservancy to undertake and fund  restoration of the state’s urban waterfronts  “to promote excellence of design a n d [to] …stimulate projects which exhibit innovation in sensitively integrating man-made features into the natural coastal environment.” In 1983 the Legislature further confirmed the state’s commitment to waterfront restoration by authorizing the sale of $650 million in bonds to fund the program.

As a result of this intensive involvement in its coastline, California has developed an approach to urban waterfront design that provides insights into the fundamental design criteria for urbanized coastal areas. California’s coastal program has attempted to encourage and, where necessary, require designs which take into account a proposed development’s immediate and surrounding environmental characteristics. Too often, designers of coastal projects have concentrated almost exclusively on the structures themselves and their component parts, and have not given adequate thought to protection of scenic values, ecologically sensitive areas, and public access to the shoreline. The Coastal Commission has tried, therefore, to provide design parameters, an “envelope” based on the Coastal Act within which the structure must fit.

Urban Waterfront Design Criteria.

From California’s experience with urban waterfront development certain design criteria become evident Almost without exception, sound coastal design reflects development that appears to fit its setting. This does not mean that development must hide from view. Development designed for human activity can enhance a site, adding to the natural setting. But enhancement is a quality that is subject to opinion and thus difficult to treat by regulation. What one person considers an enhancement, another may consider obtrusive.

Development design along the coast should not consider a structure’s design in isolation. The primary concern should be the designs suitability for its environmental setting—a view of architecture that seems more in keeping with the oriental tradition of seeking harmony with nature than with the western tradition, of imposing human order upon the natural world. In the western tradition architects create a design by arranging a set of design elements to harmonize with each other, though not always with their natural setting. For this reason,  the aim of any coastal program should be to subordinate new construction in rural areas to its surroundings and to require new construction on urban waterfronts to be compatible with the type and scale of existing structures and uses.

Development should also encourage public use and enjoyment of the coast and wherever possible, require new development to preserve and encourage traditional coastal activities—fishing, shipping, water-oriented recreation, and other activities that are dependent on a coastal location. The Coastal Act’s designation of these activities as priority uses preserves not only the aesthetic diversity of the waterfront but its economic diversity as well.

Five Principles of Urban Waterfront Design

The key to success in urban waterfront redevelopment projects lies, in my opinion, in adherence to the following simple design principles:

Santa Barbara, California

Santa Barbara, California (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Public access must be a central feature. Public use areas should be made inviting in terms of size and location. Structures should be set back from public areas to avoid any sense of intrusion. Places to sit, rest, eat, and drink should be provided adjacent to and generally inland of the public area. Access areas should be linked wherever possible. Planners must be aware that if public access is treated merely as a legal requirement, which can be satisfied by providing an uninviting walkway that winds through an intimidatingly large project, the concept of public access has no impact.

2. Major public views of the coast must be protected by design. This has both public and private components. The public component requires that views of the water from public access areas should be unobstructed. If existing views of the water from a public roadway are unavoidably obstructed by development then the development should have alternative viewing areas in the design plan. Also, view corridors from public areas to major points of interest should be provided. As for the private component, wherever practical, and where it would not conflict with public views, the development should allow inland buildings a view of the waterfront For example, in Battery Park City in New York the buildings were located in such a way that a view corridor was preserved for buildings inland of the site that would normally have had their views blocked. This quite simple public requirement (or private initiative) could extend the economic values of a waterfront site beyond the first tier of buildings to inland sites as well.

3. Recreation and commercial uses (such as commercial fishing) that require a waterfront location and are not inconsistent with the surrounding area should have space allocated for their development. Adequate space within the public area will encourage these uses to locate there.

4. Radial planning. The urban waterfront should not be planned as most other areas are, in a checkerboard pattern, with industrial uses here, commercial uses there. Regular zoning should not simply be taken to the waterline. Instead, planning for the waterfront should be radial on nature, progressing from the specific to the general. It should be specific as to uses along the shoreline and more general as one progresses inland. It should begin with a recognition of the waterfront’s particular setting. What does a person need to be able to enjoy the waterfront?

5. Dynamism. The aim should be to design a beginning, rather than an end product. The design should allow the dynamism brought by people who will use the waterfront in varied ways. An over-designed plan might be easier to sell, but easily crumbles with changing uses and fashions, while a design that provides structure but allows for change is likely to be long-lived.

These design principles are not only consistent with an altruistic notion of the public good, they are also grounded in sound economics. When the attractiveness of a resource is enhanced, its value to surrounding business also increases.

It should also be kept in mind that the essential interest of the developer is to capture the complete value of the amenity. A developer cannot rationally be asked to do otherwise. When required only to conform to a general plan, a developer is led by self-interest to develop  plans that call for maximum revenue-producing space. He will discount open space and access ways along the waterfront as costly luxuries in terms of foregone revenues. Developers’ designs usually seek to force the public through their shops to view the water. The result is often a double-loaded (shops on both sides) passageway. Yet without access to open space and viewing areas, the local population will not be drawn to the waterfront, and projects are sure to be financial burdens rather than civic assets.

Urban waterfronts have received a major share of recent attention because of their historic and economic importance, their great resource value, and their importance as growing population centers. Local governments and private investors are rediscovering waterfronts as potentially valuable resources. A significant aspect of this rediscovery is that waterfront design—and designs for the waterfront—are beginning to reflect the natural advantages of the waterfront location.

Revitalization of a waterfront is linked to the city’s economic health. A city can afford waterfront redevelopment even in an age of austerity. Amenities—that is, tangible public benefits in the form of facilities, settings, and activities— benefit not only city residents, but also the city’s economic health. Amenities are now being used by public agencies as economic development tools, along with financial packaging, tax incentives, site acquisition and development, and other conventional approaches.

Clearly, the public sector has a crucial role to play in achieving compatible waterfront designs and, indeed, all coastal design. Government must play the dual roles of entrepreneur and mediator, roles not typical of government, but which it is nonetheless capable of learning. Government’s role also includes preparing the ground— literally, as well as politically and financially—for the development to come. Of necessity, government takes the overall management role in waterfront design and development. Compatible waterfront design that includes public amenities, far from being a costly luxury, is now being considered by both the public and private sector as an essential—and leading—part of waterfront development.

Conclusion.

There is room for diverse interests on the waterfront and the entire coastal edge. The need for multiple uses can be accommodated in many ways. The public sec tor—state and local government—has a basic responsibility to foster the best and most appropriate use of the waterfront and the coast. Design professionals and their clients, as creators of structures which will dot the coastal landscape for years to come, are obligated to work within public established constraints. And of course, the ultimate responsibility for preservation of the coastal edge belongs to the public.

A policy and regulatory framework can establish the boundaries within which multiple uses of waterfront land can be accommodated. Operating within these boundaries, public agencies can use the creative development approach to resolve coastal land use and design conflicts. In this way, public enjoyment and use of the coast can be achieved, sensitive coastal resources can be protected, and legitimate private investment can be made in a manner consistent with environmentally sound policies and regulations.

*Portions of this paper are taken from: Petrillo, Joseph E., and Peter Grenell, The UrbanEdge, Where the CityMeets the Sea, California State Coastal Conservancy and William Kaufmann, Inc., Los Altos, California, 1985.

Biographical Note:

 Joseph E. Petrillo played a key role in drafting the California Coastal Plan and in shaping the bills that made it law in 1976. He was counsel for the California State Coastal Commission between 1973 and 1975, consultant to the State Senate Land Use Committee from 1975 to 1977, then became the First Executive Officer of the California State Coastal Conservancy. After nine years in that post, he resigned to go into private practice as an attorney and consultant on land use planning.
ADDITIONAL READINGS

Adams, Louise McCorkle. 1981. The Affordable Coast. State Coastal Conservancy.

Adams, Louise McCorkle,and RickAdams. 1985. TheCaliforniaHighway 1 Books. New York.

Bamett, Jonathan. 1986. The Elusive City. Harper & Row. New York.

Bemier, Jacqueline. 1984. Commercial Fishing Facilities in California. California State Coastal Conservancy.

Burns, Jim, et. al. 1979. A Plan for Seal Beach. State Coastal Conservancy. California Coastal Plan. 1975. California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission.

Caputo, Daryl F. 1981. Open Space Pays: The Socioeconomics for Open Space Preservation. New Jersey Conservation Foundation.

Clark, John, et. al. 1979. Small Reports. The Conservation Foundation.

Grice, Patricia Ann. 1980. Future Demand for Commercial Fishing Berths in California. California Coastal Commission. San Francisco.

Horn, Steve. 1982. An Urban Waterfront Program for California. State Coastal Conservancy.

Minurbi, Luciano, et. al. Land Readjustment: The Japanese System. Lincoln Institute of Land Policy. Boston. 1986.

Petrillo, Joseph. 1987. Small City Waterfront Restoration. Coastal Management, Lot 15, pp. 197-212.Taylor and Francis. New York.

Petrillo, Joseph. 1987. How to Save a Resource: Negotiated Development. Coastal Zone ’87 Proceedings, pp. 2783-2793. American Society of Civil Engineers. New York.

Petrillo, Joseph, and Peter Grenell. 1985. The Urban Edge, Where the City Meets the Sea. California State Coastal Conservancy and William Kaufmann, Inc., Los Altos, California.

Petrillo, Joseph. 1984. The California State Coastal Conservancy and Conflict Resolution: Reconciling Competing Interests for Land Use in the Bolsa Chica Wetlands. Proceedings of the Coastal Society Ninth Annual Conference.

Petrillo, Joseph E., and Abigail D. Shaw. “The Conservancy Concept.” Proceedings of Coastal Zone ’85. Pilkey,Orrin, et al. 1983. Coastal Design. Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., New York.

Rosenbaum, Nelson M. 1976. Citizen Involvement in Land Use Governance. The Urban Institute, Washington, D. C.

Sabatier, Paul A. and Daniel A. Mazmanian. 1983. Can Regulation Work? The Implementation of the 1972 California Coastal Initiative. Plenum Press.

Shoemaker, Joe. 1981. Returning the Platte to the People. The Greenway Foundation, Tumbleweed Press, Westminister Co.

Squire, Peverill, and Stanley Scott. The Politics of California Coastal Legislation, the Crucial Year, 1976. Institute of Governmental Studies, University of California, Berkeley.

State Coastal Conservancy. 1985. Waterfront Revitalization: PismoBeach, California. Urban Waterfront Lands.

National Academy of Sciences. Urban Waterfront Revitalization: The Role of Recreation and Heritage, U.S.Depart ment of the Interior. 1980.

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program: Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA)

Bridge on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County,...

Bridge on Highway 101 in Santa Barbara County, California north of Los Angeles. this and other coastal highways are heavily traveled. Some 84 percent of the state’s residents live within 30 miles of the coast, and this concentration has resulted in increased land use pressures. Restrictions on coastal development within 1,000 yards of the shoreline were tightened with the passage in November, 1972, of the Coastal Zone Conservation Act. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program.

Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHA)

Recently I have been involved in a series of email exchanges with Norbert Dall a long-time expert in matters regrding the California Coastal Commission who has amassed perhaps the most comprehensive library regarding the agency, its history and its activities. The focus of the emails were directed to assisting environmental scientist Michael Vasey‘s efforts to write a paper about the genesis of the California Coastal Commission’s regulatory policies affecting ESHAs. In the last decade or so the Coastal Commission‘s interpretation of these policies greatly broadened their scope. The increase in the reach of the Coastal Commission‘s authority has been accompanied by an equivalent increase in public controversy.

It has been fascinating watching Norbert and Michael‘s meticulous exploration into the subject; combing through inumerable documents and conducting interviews that attempt to refresh almost 40-year-old memories to try to piece together how a concept that originally was ignored but ultimately became so prominent a part of the Coastal Regulatory Program.

I believe it may be helpful to their efforts and anyone else who may have an interest in the subject, to be aware that at the time the Coastal Plan was adopted and the 1976 California Coastal Act passed through the California Legislature, “environmentalism”, as we have come to know it, was in its infancy. Novel ideas and concepts were constantly being thrown around as people struggled with trying to discover the best ways to deal with the negative environmental and social effects of development.

During that time I was responsible for drafting large sections of the Coastal Plan and managing the Commission‘s Interim Development Regulation efforts. Later as consultant to the California State Senate I was intensivly involved in the drafting of the legislation that became The Coastal Act of 1976. From this vantage point I had the opportunity to observe the process at first hand.

In the course of preparing the Coastal Plan, we were initially guided by California‘s previous efforts, most prominatly the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Plan, as well as regional planning theories prevalent in the planning schools at the time.

We began the interim development regulation process and developing the structure of the Coastal Plan by focusing our attention on what was uniquely “coastal.” After all, we reasoned, the Coastal Zone was simply a juridical area designated for special regulation that was not imposed elsewhere. We, therefore tried to identify those “resources” that were specifically associated with the Coastal Zone.

For example, beaches along the ocean could be considered “coastal” along with the dune systems surrounding them. On the other hand, a bunch of sand buried a mile or so inland under some turf generally would not considered a “coastal resource.” Just because something someone thought was valuable but had a tenuous or no relation to the Coastal Zone other than location, especially if it appeared other places inland would usually not be considered a “coastal resource” that would be subject to the heightened regulatory regime being imposed in the Coastal Zone, unless one could demonstrate other things that somehow “connected” it uniquely to the Coastal Zone.

Carrying this concept out further, a natural process or flora or fauna habitat that existed in the Coastal Zone that may be impacted by development, but existed in abundance elsewhere outside of the Coastal Zone was usually not considered in need of unique coastal protection policies no mater how sensitive they may be. This remained so unless it could be demonstrated that there was some unique coastal value involved.

Take the buried sand, undoubtedly someone somewhere would for whatever reason want to have the California Coastal Commission preserve it from alteration due to development. During the early days we, The Commission Staff, would require those urging us to preserve the sand from significant impacts of potential development, to provide some convincing evidence that there was some unique coastal value or as we termed it “coastal resource” involved and not simply something to be used to halt a development proposal.

Similarly some developments were considered dependent upon the coast, such as ports and marinas and the like. If they were to exist anywhere they had to be constructed on the coast and so they were considered “coastal dependent.” Other developments did not have to be sited on the coast and could be accommodated inland. So, where a non-coastal dependent development would impact “coastal resources” it could be denied. On the other hand, in the case of a “coastal dependent development” one had to make a value judgements between “coastal dependent development” and “natural coastal resources.”

In most cases with coastal dependent development, at least in the Coastal Plan there was an assumption that, for a number of reasons, they would in most cases ultimately be built. So it was important that in these cases the analysis was not limited simply to the mitigation of “coastal resource” impacts but avoidance of impacts on other resources deemed significant as well.

It could be argued (and it was) during the development of the Coastal Plan that an extractive resource located in the Coastal Zone was more or less “coastal dependent” (the Coastal Commission went through severe contortions in their attempt to bring flexibility into the process, even to the point of adding something called “coastal related” into the analysis). “Coastal related,” was simply a development that while not impossible to be located outside of the Coastal Zone none the less was singnificantly benefited by a location in the Coastal Zone.

So with reference to the development of the ESHA, it could be argued that off-shore oil was “coastal dependent” (or related) because it had to be extracted in the Coastal Zone since that was where the oil and gas was located. So also were the necessary associated facilities, pipelines and the like. On the other hand, refineries did not have to be located in the Coastal Zone. In some cases it may have been less expensive if they were, but that was not a necessary determinant. Similarly with power plants, which although at the time there was a strong economic argument for siting them in the Coastal Zone, they were clearly not considered “coastal dependent.”

Because everyone was loath to flatly prohibit in the Coastal Plan any particular class of development in the Coastal Zone, and the recognition that large industrial facilities like power-plants and refineries have far greater direct and indirect impacts than say housing, the Coastal Plan eventually evolved from identifying “coastal resources” and fashioning appropriate policies to protect them to developing rules dealing directly with large industrial development.

The Coastal Commission Staff believed that in those cases the evaluation be more comprehensive; sort of like a coastal oriented EIR. It was in those policies in the Coastal Plan dealing with large industrial projects that Norbert discovered the first glimmerings of ESHA, a concept almost devoid of specifically “coastal resource” focused analytical content.

Memoir about the “California Coastal Act of 1976” Legislative Process.

Housing Development On California Coast - NARA...

Housing Development On California Coast – NARA – 543438 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On the Edge: Stories about the Creation and Early Years of California’s Monumental Coastal Protection Program.

The 1976 California Coastal Program in the Legislature: Sheep in wolf’s clothing or the art of the dealing.

In early 1976 the California State Senate, Resources Committee narrowly rejected SB 1579 containing the most controversial portion of the California Coastal Program,* the proposed regulatory regime intended to govern development in California’s 1500 mile long Coastal Zone.

Following that defeat, the environmental leaders intimately involved in the legislation (Including John Zierold, lobbyist for the powerful Sierra Club) settled upon a minor piece of legislation, authored by a little known freshman Senator Jerry Smith, a Democrat from pro-environment suburban Santa Clara County, that had already passed through the State Senate with which to resuscitate the coastal protection legislative efforts (SB 1277).

SB 1577 had failed in the State Senate primarily because of opposition by several liberal Democratic Senators including David Roberti, a powerful Democratic State Senator from Los Angeles. Their public rational included their fear that regulation of the coastline would cause escalating land costs, creating an enclave for the rich and freezing out the poor and middle class from living and enjoying the coast. In fact, their position depended to a great extent on the fierce opposition to coastal regulation by the building trades unions, strong campaign contributors to the Democratic Party.

Roberti had demanded additional protections for low and moderate housing within the Coastal Zone as his price for voting for the bill. Several of the leaders of citizen groups that supported Coastal Protection legislation, but who also believed that the legislation was deficient in this regard, worked with members of the Coastal Commission‘s Senior Staff to prepare the requisite amendments which were then given to Roberti. He offered the amendments in committee and the author of SB 1577 Senator Anthony Beilenson accepted them. Roberti voted against the bill anyway sending it down to defeat.

Interestingly, Peter Douglas, a consultant to the assembly Natural Resources Committee (who over a decade later became the long serving Executive Director of the Coastal Commission) angrily denounced the amendments, insisting, “social issues don’t belong in environmental legislation.” Mel Lane the Chairman of the Coastal Commission publisher of the iconic California magazine “Sunset,” echoed this opinion and furiously accused one of the citizen leaders of, “Killing my Coastal Act.

A few months previously, I had left my position as Chief Counsel to the Coastal Commission to join Smith. I became Chief Consultant to the Select Committee on Land Use Management Organizations, created by the Senate Rules Committee at Smith’s request in order to enhance his environmental credentials. Also, with my appointment, Smith hoped to improve his chances to play a significant role in the Coastal Program legislative process that would otherwise be denied him because of his lack of seniority.

Almost a year prior, the California Coastal Commission adopted the California Coastal Plan, completing a three-year process initiated by a 1972 citizen passed initiative called “Proposition 20″ that set up a State and several Regional Coastal Commissions in order to regulate development along the State’s over California’s 1500 mile coastline while they created a plan to govern future development in the zone.The plan would then go to the State Legislature for their consideration and hoped for acceptance.

Following the State Coastal Commissions adoption of the Plan, several members of the senior permit staff were concerned that most of the Coastal Commissioners believed that they hade done their job and now the future of Coastal Protection was solely in the hands of the Legislature. Those concerned staff, however, believed that such a hands-off approach would inevitably lead to the defeat or emasculation of the Plan in the hurly-burley of power politics in which he with the most money at risk often prevails. Most of the senior permit and legal staff were experienced enough to recognize that complex and controversial matters such as the proposed Coastal Program, in the legislative context, tended to be dealt with in a series of broad compromises and tradeoffs among those with the greatest economic interests at stake. The hands off attitude of the Commissioners, they believed, would leave the program to which they had dedicated three years of their lives without a knowledgable advocate in the private negotiations where most legislative activity gets done.

In addition, the staff realized that the only legislative staff member in Sacramento that one could point to as having a more than passing interest in coastal protection legislation was a man who appeared to them as so limited in knowledge and competence that he rarely was entrusted with much beyond observing and reporting on the Commission‘s activities.

During the three-year coastal planning process, much of staff’s experience with this legislative aide amounted to little more than receiving periodic warnings from him of political catastrophe should the staff actually attempted to protect a resource that offended one or another of the Capital’s more aggressive legislators. In addition, the staff had the clear impression that his goal was to eliminate most of what was in the plan and replace it with what he called the “coastal essence,” that most of the Commission Staff considered more of a noxious odor than a regulatory program. It had been said that Peter Douglas (the same person who would later so vociferously oppose  including social issues into coastal protection legislation) had never met a political objection so small for which he would not be willing to surrender someone else’s interests.

To make matters worse, the Chairman of the Commission, its Executive Director and Chief Planner as well as the aforementioned Douglas also favored a simple bill that would continue the Coastal Commission as it was with watered down authority and more limited jurisdictional reach. Instead of the substantive policies in the Coastal Plan developed over the three previous years, the seemed to believe that legislation containing vague references to the Coastal Plan and its policies stood a better chance of legislative approval.

As a result, these members of the Commission Staff who disagreed with this approach encouraged, supported and conspired with those community based so-called citizen advocates who also had devoted much of their lives during the past three years to developing the program, to become directly involved in the legislative process; not simply as cheerleaders but as active participants defending their own interests in the Plan. These activists were a diverse lot including the Coastal Coordinator of the establishment Sierra Club, Joe Edmiston, a group of teenagers from the bay area energized by their successful participation in Commission business, as well as many others some of whose activities on behalf of local community, social justice and environmental concerns eventually led them to distinguished careers in politics, finance, government and business.

Over time, we evolved a few basic overriding strategies and precepts upon which we would move from the planning and administrative process of the Coastal Commission into the legislative wars. Among these precepts were:

1. The need to have our own model legislation that reflected the Plan precisely, so that all involved would know not only the specific provisions that interested them, but everything else and how it all fit together. In other words these mostly novice citizen lobbyists would become, not simply interested supporters appearing at hearings with signs and slogans, but participants pushing their own particular interests as well as their common ideals. They would flood the halls of the Capitol and be as knowledgeable in the process and the specifics of the legislation as any of the legislators, legislative staff or their opponents and often more so.

2.  Use of an informal rapid communication process among those involved, rapidly apprising them of everything that could affect the legislation. The informal network among the activists already existed and had operated successfully during development of the Plan. The Commission staff increased their direct participation and often kept the rest informed of fast changing events.

3. Placement of a senior member of the staff in a position in the State Capitol that allowed that person to take an active and daily role in the negotiations and control the drafting of any amendments to the bill.

As for the model legislation, I persuaded the executive director to allocate funding for the process. The executive director solicited names of potential consultants from some of the more prominent environmentalists in the state. They recommended  two attorneys, Barrie and Robert Girard be retained to draft a prototype bill. The staff instructed the Girards to include as much as possible of each provision in the Coastal Plan. Bill Boyd, a member of the Commission’s senior permit staff and my successor as Chief Counsel, was chosen to work with them to assure the product met our goals. Although the resulting draft effectively reflected the provisions contained in the governance element of the Coastal Plan that I had written, the Executive Director and Chief Planner had managed to eliminate the substantive policies elements and replace him with vague references to the Coastal Plan document. A meeting among the environmentalists and the Executive Director to discuss the draft was met with the strong objection, by Joe Edmiston and others to  absence of the Plan’s substantive policies, and resulted in inclusion of what would ultimately become Chapter 3 in the final bill.

Meanwhile I had agreed to leave the Commission staff and try to find a way to work into the legislative process. I was the likely choice since, I wanted to do something different, approached political conflict as war by other means, and most of the staff welcomed relief from my mercurial and often overbearing management style. So I joined Smith.

As it turned out the Democratic leadership and John Zierold chose the liberal warhorse, but diffident State Senator, Anthony Beilenson. He and his able, but inexperienced assistant, Gail Osherenko, consented essentially to insert the staffs model bill into the proposed legislation.

Meanwhile, Smith, Zierold and I agreed to work a minor piece of environmental legislation through the Senate so that, should the main legislation fail, it could be resuscitated in the other house thereby keeping it alive. This was not unusual a parliamentary ploy for major legislation. It allowed a bill, defeated in a committee of one house, to be revived, moved through the more obliging chamber and brought back to the entire membership of the original chamber for “concurrence” in the other chambers amendments thereby avoiding any recalcitrant committee and hopefully increasing the legislation’s chances for passage.

The defeated legislation was amended into Smith’s bill that had already passed the Senate and was awaiting action in the appropriate Assembly committees.

The first thing everyone involved agreed to was that the legislation required a principal co-author who was a powerful member of the Assembly. Assemblyman Charles (Charlie) Warren was chosen. Smith and I, who had hoped the Speaker of the Assembly McCarthy would agree to co-author the bill, were not overly enthusiastic about this. Warren, although a powerful member of the Assembly, many considered him as somewhat of a loose-cannon with touches of megalomania. His aide on coastal matters was the afore-mentioned Peter Douglas. Smith, members of the senior staff as well as many within the environmental community and I feared that Warren and Douglas would attempt to wrest control of the bill and weaken it. Fortunately, both were also generally considered not all that effective.

As the previous bill moved through the Senate before its defeat, Osherenko and I attempted to neutralize Douglas by assigning him the job of editing the amendments that Osherenko or I had negotiated. Again Bill Boyd was selected to work with him to make sure that what we had won in negotiations was not lost in the drafting.

The first order of business was for the two principal authors to meet and agree on the provisions of the bill that would appear in the first committee. A day or two before the meeting Smith and I met to develop our negotiating strategy for that meeting. We had learned that the main thrust of Warren and Douglas’ expected demands would   what most of us considered would emasculate  the legislation by, among other things:

1. removing all jurisdiction of the Commission over Coastal Agriculture,

2. eliminating the substantive policies and replacing them with the “coastal essence,” and

3. reversing some of the hard-won agreements with several interest groups, such as the League of California Cities, which had in response to the agreement removed their opposition to the legislation releasing several legislators to vote for it.

(see note below)

Now before proceeding, some comments on a few of the negotiation tactics we had developed and implemented to move the bill along. They were to:

1. Negotiate with each interest group opposed (Both public and private), separately and technically. (Almost every significant interest group had a staff member assigned to the technical negotiations. For example, the ever-present and indefatigable Bill Boyd was assigned to the League of California Cities.)

2. Try to focus the discussions on procedural issues and away from substantive ones.

3. Use the bill’s complexity and our superior knowledge to our advantage.

Smith and I discussed our approach to the coming negotiations with Warren and Douglas. In regard to the coastal agricultural policies and jurisdiction, the Coastal Zone, the proposed Coastal Zone boundary extended many, many miles inland of the Coastal Zone than that created by the initiative. Within that zone, essentially Commission planning and not permit authority would apply. We had always considered this one of the most vulnerable provisions in the Plan. Nevertheless, we committed  ourselves to obtain a substantial offset were we forced to surrender it. Now Smith and I faced two supposed environmentalists, Warren and Douglas who, despite the fact that throughout the predecessor legislation passage through the Senate the Coastal Agriculture provisions resisted attack, insisted on its unilateral surrender in a private meeting.

Smith and I assumed that this demand was a function of Warren’s ego. He was the author of another piece of pending legislation whose goal was to protect California’s Agriculture from urban encroachment. We were prepared to argue that the provision in the proposed Coastal Act had not been under severe attack by any group with which we could obtain a global settlement, and that passage of protection of coastal agriculture could help and not hinder his legislation, especially should his bill include subsuming Coastal Zone agriculture into the less severe state-wide agriculture protection legislation (And we suggested this option to him at our meeting). Nevertheless we assumed that Warren wanted no competition for the title of “Protector of California’s Agriculture,” and that would be the price of his support.

As for the settlements we had eked out with the League of California Cities and others, that Douglas apparently was so opposed to, what we had negotiated, in keeping with our strategy, was in our opinion essentially procedural relief and not a substantive weakening of the legislation. Also, although we tended to be dubious about the standard economic model that said that development would move from areas with more stringent regulation to those areas less restrictive, if it were correct, movement of development pressure from undeveloped areas into already developed ones was a staple of environmental planning. Douglas appeared not to understand this.

Nevertheless, we were confident the accommodation would be proposed again in the first committee hearing, so agreeing with Douglas at the meeting had no adverse consequences that we could foresee.

As for the substantive provisions of the proposed legislation we would stand firm for their retention as payment for the other two concessions.

That evening, I prepared on a yellow legal tablet a list of inconsequential demands, should the discussion require additional give and take, but we considered them all give-a-ways should the meeting go as we expected.

In fact they did go as suspected. Douglas came in with an extensive memorandum justifying their positions. After presenting his conclusions, he and his memorandum were mostly ignored. Warren seemed to lose interest in prolonging the discussions once we agreed to his demands on the agriculture policies and appeared  eager to move things along and avoid arguing over some the technical proposals in Douglas memo. Following our feigned unhappy acceptance or the demand to eliminate the League of Cities accommodation, he rapidly agreed, over Douglas’ objection, to retain the substantive policies and the meeting rapidly ended. We asked Douglas to memorialize the results of the meeting which he did with his usual penchant for self-aggrandizement.

The legislation containing the agreed upon amendments then went into the hearing process before the two Assembly Committees where, as we expected, the League of Cities amendment was re-proposed and Smith accepted it without objection. Thereafter the most significant changes to the legislation occurred during a marathon 13 hour hearing in front of the Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. At this hearing, the official maps delineating the significantly expanded Coastal Zone were displayed along the back wall of the Committee room. Having declined an opportunity to review the maps in detail, the Committee directed those with issues regarding the jurisdictional maps meet with Zierold and the ever-present Bill Boyd and try to work them out. This resulted in an orgy or fluttering maps and flying magic markers and Zierold and Boyd negotiated almost every inch of the jurisdictional line during those 13 hours. In keeping with our standard practice Boyd’s superior knowledge and our approach of giving nothing without getting something in return, the final maps had for the most part surrendered some inland urban areas in return for massive extension of jurisdiction in some rural counties (In an ironic sidelight, the massive increase of The Coastal Zone in the rural counties recaptured almost all the area lost in the negotiations with Warren and Douglas except that now they were subject to the Commission‘s complete regulatory control and not just planning and zoning).

When offered an opportunity to review the final maps the Committee demurred, and so the legislation passed out of the Committee and through the Assembly. No significant changes occurred until after being brought back to the Senate floor it languished until the last moment intervention of then Governor Jerry Brown.

Note: Douglas while working as Consultant to the assembly Natural Resources Committee during this period shepherded hearings in that committee that emasculated the Commission‘s authority over developments conducted by other agencies of the State explaining that it was politically expedient to do so in one fell swoop and not continue the agency by agency negotiations the Commission staff was already conducting with promising results. For example Osherenko and I in negotiations with the Energy Commission represented by Richard Maullin an extremely disagreeable man whose arrogance far exceeded his abilities, we agreed to give up the Commission‘s permit by permit review authority over electric power plants, in return for  the Commission’s ability to designate areas where those power plants could not be sited. In my opinion a sensible compromise, given the fact that power plant permitting complexity requires addressing many issues outside of the Coastal Commission‘s purview. This was however not Douglas’ position. He held the curious position that one can best save the Coast by surrendering it. In any event due to the hard work of Boyd and other Commission staff members we were able to retain most of the accommodations that we had previously negotiated with the Agencies.

* The California Coastal Program had three parts:

1. Funding for the State’s parks and wildlife agencies to buy those lands where no development should occur by the legislature placing a bond act on the ballot to fund those acquisitions.

2. Creation of a coastal environmental restoration and public access agency called the Coastal Conservancy.

3. Passage of the California Coastal Act containing the policies by which future development in the Coastal Zone would be regulated.

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