The California Coastal Commission: Infringing On The People’s Right To Build, Or Protecting Our Beaches?

With the goal of protecting the many special natural and scenic qualities of California’s 1,100 miles of coastline, the California Coastal Commission was created by a California Ballot Initiative in 1972. The Coastal Commission is an independent state agency that is composed of twelve appointed commissioners.

Under the California Coastal Act a protected coastal zone was established ranging from several hundred feet to five miles inland (depending on population density) and up to three miles out to sea. The San Francisco Bay is excluded from the coastal zone as it falls under the authority of the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. The entire coastal zone combined is larger than the entire State of Rhode Island.

No development within the coastal zone may commence until a development permit (CDP) has been issued. A permit is required for major construction, demolition and soil alteration or projects right next to a bluff or on the beach. Smaller projects, such as remodels, additions, garages, swimming pools, sheds, and fences are likely exempt. To begin the process one must undergo a rigorous application process including a public hearing open about which residents who live within 100 feet and those who own properties within 300 feet of the project site will be publicly notified. A proposed project must also meet any and all criteria outlined in local land use and coastal zone design plans. Once a project is approved or denied there is an appeals process available to all applicants who have been declined AND parties who object to approved projects by which they may be affected.

There are those who believe The Coastal Commission to be the single most powerful land use authority in the United States. For example, the commission prevented the Hearst Corporation from building a resort complex near the famous Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo, shot down a project in San Diego to extend a toll road and is currently considering forcing landowners of Martin’s Beach in Half Moon Bay to allow public access to the beach.

Seen by some as an all-too-powerful regulatory body that infringes on people’s freedom, the Commission is recognized by others as a champion of California’s natural beauty and public communities along the coastline.
For additional information about California’s spectacular beaches and coastal regions, The Coastal Commission has published a Northern California guide to beaches and parks called Experience the California Coast: A Guide to Beaches and Parks in Northern California, available at Amazon and the University of California Press.