July 31, 2008

Starving the Beast: The Coastal Commission's Shrinking Budget

By Starving the Beast: The Coastal Commission's Shrinking Budget

As reported in this Capitol Weekly story, the Coastal Commission is facing a major budget cut of 10% this year.  Projections are that the Commission will have to lay off 19 to 25 members of its 125-member staff.  The Commission's budget expert, Susan Hansch, says that the budget cuts "will devastate the Coastal Commission and critically impair implementation of the Coastal Act."

How will this impact coastal property owners?  Commission staff could continue its notorious practice of violating statutory deadlines in its review of projects, causing property owners to lose time and money in the permitting process.  Or staff could simply refocus its limited resources.  Here are just a few ideas:

(1) Even after a project is approved by a local government, the Coastal Act in many circumstances permits an appeal of that project to the Commission if a notice of appeal is filed either by an interested member of the public or by two Commissioners.  How are Commissioners able to track the many local approvals up and down the State?  They don't; staffers do.  Overly zealous staff members enjoy trolling about for "objectionable" projects, which they then bring to the attention of two Commissioners who sign off on the notice of appeal.  Staff and Commissioners should refrain from exercising the appeal power.  If a project is approved locally, and no member of the public is interested enough to appeal the approval to the Commission, the Commission need not get involved.

(2) Staff could scale back its enforcement efforts.  Most, if not all, enforcement actions that it takes are constitutionally suspect anyway, from a property rights perspective.  And many are just plain petty.  PLF's Gualala fireworks case is just one example of enforcement gone awry:  Staff persuaded the Commission to issue a cease-and-desist order to stop a 15-minute Fourth-of-July fireworks display, on the ground that a fireworks show is a "development" (and therefore within the Commission's jurisdiction) that disturbed some birds over a mile away. 

(3)  Staff could focus on big coastal projects, instead of wasting its resources on minor, negligible activities in the coastal zone.  Trying to stop a couple from repairing their beach fence — to protect would-be bluff-climbers from serious injury or even death — simply is not a wise expenditure of staff's limited resources.

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