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California Coastal Commission


California Coastal Commission

California Coastal Commission
Agency overview
Formed 1972
Headquarters San Francisco, California
Employees 125[1]
Annual budget $16,307,000 (FY2009-10)[2]
Agency executive Charles Lester, Executive Director

The California Coastal Commission is a state agency in the U.S. state of California with quasi-judicial regulatory oversight over land use and public access in the California coastal zone.

The California Coastal Commission's mission is "To protect, conserve, restore, and enhance the environment of the California coastline".[3] The Commission's current agenda can be found on their website.[4]


  • History 1
  • Development 2
  • Local coastal programs 3
  • Enforcement Authority 4
  • Legal issues 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The California Coastal Commission (CCC) was established in 1972 by voter initiative via Proposition 20.[5] This was partially in response to the controversy surrounding the development of Sea Ranch, a planned coastal community in Sonoma County. Al Boeke, Sea Ranch's developer-architect, initially envisioned a community that would preserve the area's natural beauty.[6][7] But the plan for Sea Ranch eventually grew to encompass 10 miles of the Sonoma County coastline that would have been reserved for private use. This and other similar coastal projects prompted opponents, wanting more public access along the coast, to form activist groups. Their efforts eventually led to putting Proposition 20 on the ballot.[6]

Proposition 20 gave the Coastal Commission permit authority for four years. The California Coastal Act of 1976 extended the Coastal Commission's authority indefinitely. The agency is tasked with protection of coastal resources, including shoreline public access and recreation, lower cost visitor accommodations, terrestrial and marine habitat protection, visual resources, landform alteration, agricultural lands, commercial fisheries, industrial uses, water quality, offshore oil and gas development, transportation, development design, power plants, ports, and public works.[5] For further explanation of the Commission's responsibilities, please see the California Coastal Act, especially the Chapter 3 policies (Sections 30200 - 30265.5).

The state authority controls construction along the state's 1,100 miles (1,770 km) of shoreline.[8] The Commission is composed of 12 voting members, 6 chosen from the general public, and 6 appointed elected officials. The panelists are not paid salary nor stipend for their work, however being on the Commission can carry responsibilities which are highly politicized.[8]

Accounting for 164 percent inflation, the commission's total funding declined 26 percent from $22.1 million in 1980 ($13.5 million in then-current dollars) to $16.3 million in 2010.[2] The commission's full-time staff fell from 212 in 1980 to 125 in 2010.[1] There are 11 enforcement officers to investigate violations along the 1,100-mile coastline.


Development activities are broadly defined by the Coastal Act to include (among others) construction of buildings, divisions of land, and activities that change the intensity of use of land or public access to coastal waters. Development usually requires a Coastal Development Permit from either the Coastal Commission or the local government if such development would occur within the Coastal Zone.[5] The Coastal Zone is specifically defined by law as an area that extends from the State's seaward boundary of jurisdiction, and inland for a distance from the Mean High Tide Line of between a couple of hundred feet in urban areas, to up to five miles in rural areas.[9]

Local coastal programs

The Commission is the primary agency which issues Coastal Development Permits. However, once a local agency (a County, City, or Port) has a Local Coastal Program (LCP) which has been certified by the Commission, that agency takes over the responsibility for issuing Coastal Development Permits. For areas with Certified LCP's, the Commission does not issue Coastal Development permits (except in certain areas where the Commission retains jurisdiction, i.e. public trust lands), and is instead responsible for reviewing amendments to a local agency's LCP, or reviewing Coastal Development Permits issued by local agencies which have been appealed to the Commission.[5]

A Local Coastal Program is composed of a Land Use Plan and an Implementation Plan. A Land Use Plan details the Land Uses which are permissible in each part of the local government's area, and specifies the general policies which apply to each Land Use. The Land Use can be a part of a local government's general plan. The Implementation Plan is responsible for implementing the policies contained in the Land Use Plan. The Implementation Plan is generally a part of the City's Zoning code.[10]

Enforcement Authority

The agency has sought enforcement through the courts as it originally did not have the power to issue fines on its own to alleged violators. A bill in the California legislature to grant the commission a broad power to issue fines was defeated in September 2013.[11] A bill was passed in 2014[12] with the authority to impose fines on violators of public-access which could apply to about a third of the backlog of over 2,000 unresolved enforcement cases.[13][14]

Legal issues

The Supreme Court of the United States ruled in the 1987 case of Nollan v. California Coastal Commission that if the state of California through its regulatory agency, the California Coastal Commission, thinks an easement on private land is a good idea and a valuable public purpose, they should use eminent domain and pay for it, as opposed to demanding concessions from a land owner in exchange for a building permit. The court considered that "an out and out plan of extortion" of property.[15] In the case, the owners of beachfront property were required to grant an easement for public access to facilitate pedestrian access to public beaches as a condition of permit approval to enlarge their home. The court, in a narrow decision, ruled that an "essential nexus" must exist between the asserted "legitimate state interest” and the permit condition imposed by government.


  1. ^ a b Ellison, Katherine (May 7, 2010). "Leading the Coastal Commission for 25 Years, a Crusader and Lightning Rod". The New York Times. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  2. ^ a b "Proposed Budget Detail: 3720 Coastal Commission". Governor's Budget 2010-11. January 8, 2010. Retrieved May 11, 2010. 
  3. ^ California Coastal Commission, website.
  4. ^ Agenda page.
  5. ^ a b c d Who We Are. 2011. Retrieved 28-01-2011.
  6. ^ a b Woo, Elaine (2011-11-20). "Al Boeke dies at 88; 'father' of Northern California's Sea Ranch".  
  7. ^ Hevesi, Dennis (2011-11-16). "Al Boeke, Architect Who Sought Ecological Harmony, Is Dead at 88".  
  8. ^ a b Coastal commission looking very green. Mike Lee. San Diego Union Tribune. 18-01-2011. Retrieved 28-01-2011.
  9. ^ Coastal Act Section 30103.
  10. ^ The Role of Local Governments. 2011. Retrieved 10-05-2011.
  11. ^ Barboza, Tony (September 10, 2013). "Bill to give Coastal Commission power to levy fines is rejected". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 7, 2014. 
  12. ^ Section 9 of SB 861 California State Legislature Accessed 1 July 2014
  13. ^ Barboza, Tony (June 30, 2014) "Blocking Californians' beach access will soon carry a hefty fine" Los Angeles Times
  14. ^ Moore, Duncan Joseph; Roy, Jennifer; Stromberg, Winston (August 25, 2014) "California Coastal Commission Further Solidifies Enforcement Powers" Latham and Watkins
  15. ^ Nollan v. California Coastal Commission, 483 U.S. 825 (Supreme Court of the United States 1987).

External links

  • California Coastal Commission official web site
  • California Coastal Commission Public Education web site
  • Lessons learned in six and a half years serving on the California Coastal Commission, Steve Blank
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