Last year the California Coastal Commission suffered a major legislative defeat when AB 976—which would have given the Commission broad authority to levy administrative penalties without having first to go to court to prove a violation—failed to pass. We’ve also reported on this blog that the bill is redivivus, in somewhat less ambitious form. But the new version of the bill—which would give the Commission penalty authority for public-access violations of the Coastal Act (as opposed to all violations of the Act) still has encountered criticism, this time because of the manner in which the Commission’s legislative supporters seek its passage. As Steven Greenhut of the San Diego Union-Tribune explains in his article this week, the proposal has been tacked on to a budget bill as a trailer bill, which stratagem raises the stakes considerably for those legislators who voted against AB 976 last session (because voting against the bill would also require voting against a number of otherwise popular matters).
To be sure, this bill is not as broad as AB 976, in that many disputes over “development” under the Act do not involve public access, e.g., whether a home remodel is too big. But there are nevertheless many disputes directly concerning private property that could implicate public access, e.g., putting up “No Trespassing” signs or changing a property’s use from public commercial to private residential. And, under the new bill, the Commission would be able to fine property owners directly, putting the onus on them to seek judicial review to overturn the Commission’s decision. That would be a significant leverage shift from the regulated public to the agency, and may well raise due process concerns.