Urban Edginess

Where the City Meets its Future.

Tag: Coast

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.

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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.

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