Coastal Commission November wrap-up

November 20, 2013 | By JONATHAN WILLIAMS

Last week I attended the California Coastal Commission meeting at the Taj Mahal in Newport Beach.

On Wednesday, the meeting attracted a crowd full of union and environmental activists, to discuss Poseidon Water’s application to build a $900 million desalination plant. The proposed facility would produce 50 million gallons of drinking water a day by recycling water used by a power plant. The project has been moving through the regulatory process since 1998, and is supported by most Orange County officials. Unfortunately for Poseidon, Coastal Commission staff recommended a $270 million modification that could kill the project. While the Commission claimed support for desalination throughout the day, its underlying tone was palpably hostile. So, as is common with applicants for coastal permits, Poseidon withdrew its proposal before it could be rejected.

On Friday, the Commission, on behalf of a labor union, denied an application to replace the Beach Plaza Hotel in Long Beach. The application, which had already been approved by the Long Beach planning commission and city council, would have allowed the transformation of a run-down building into a 72-room complex with 33 residential units. Several commissioners claimed that this proposal would reduce coastal access. As a result, the commission told the developer it could either negotiate with the union or risk a vote. Once the developer declined the negotiation proposal, the Commission effectively rejected the application.

Another controversy involved an application to subdivide a former power plant site in Orange County, in order to create an open space park and 32 homes. The proponents of the plan agreed to give the City of Seal Beach 6.4 acres of land for a park near the beach, and the mayor of Seal Beach testified in support of the plan. However, the commission thought it knew better, and said that a hotel should be built on the site. The developer was forced to withdraw its application.

In addition to these contested issues, I was struck by the many decisions made without public awareness. Important issues were quickly approved or disapproved based solely on staff reports. Additionally, in the face of the Commission’s recently attempted power grab, the enforcement report was a disheartening reminder of the many structures the Commission forces people to remove.

Pacific Legal Foundation remains the only organization that consistently monitors the Coastal Commission’s meetings and activities. In fact, PLF’s first US Supreme Court win, Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, involved a lawsuit to block an attempted extortion. To learn more about PLF’s efforts to protect coastal property rights, you can subscribe to our monthly newsletter, the PLF Coastal Guardian, follow us on twitter @TheCoastWatch, or check out our blog. If you are experiencing issues with the Commission we would love to hear from you.