The California Coastal Commission has looked favorably upon the broader definition of agriculture proposed in Marin’s Local Coastal Program Amendment, which could support the preservation of family ranches and dairies. But in a staff report released Friday, the commission also recommended more stringent rules for development that could hamstring renovations in areas threatened by sea-level rise.
Last year, Marin County submitted an L.C.P., which governs agriculture, development and natural resource protection along Marin’s coast, after five years of planning and numerous opportunities for public comment. The amendment will replace a plan certified in 1982 and will make some watershed changes.
Officials say collaboration between commissioners and county staff turned hundreds of differences into a handful of issues to settle. A few critical differences remain, however, around planning for sea-level rise.
Supervisor Steve Kinsey—who is also the chair of the commission—believes both sides will be able to swiftly hammer out those final pieces at a public hearing next Thursday at the Inverness Yacht Club.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll get through the hurdles in one day next week…I’ve got my feet in both camps and I’ve got the gavel in my hand so I’m looking forward to an orderly meeting and one that gives all voices the chance to be heard,” he said.
The board president of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, Bridger Mitchell, wrote in an email that his group had not finished evaluating the staff report—which, with attachments, is almost 2,000 pages. But, he said, “It bodes to be a protracted hearing.”
One major update in the new L.C.P. is the inclusion of sea-level rise as a coastal hazard that must be accounted for when approving, or denying, development projects. The county and the commission agree that planners should consider what hazards would affect development in the 100 years following the construction of projects.
But Jack Liebster, a planning manager for the county, and Mr. Kinsey were concerned about the proposed definition of “redevelopment,” which was not addressed in the plan submitted by the county.
The current L.C.P. requires new development—or any development undertaken after the plan’s passage on May 13, 1982—located in potentially hazardous areas to avoid the need for shoreline protection devices for an “economic life” of 50 years. Potential hazards include earthquakes, bluff erosion, flooding and landslides. It makes specific provisions for bluff-top development, requiring studies to determine setbacks so that erosion within that lifetime will not threaten a project’s safety.
The new plan maintains those requirements while upping the safety and stability forecast to 100 years—the time period used for other recent L.C.P.s, the staff report said—and specifically adding sea-level rise as a hazard.
Commission staff also wrote that in applications for new development or renovations, shoreline-protection devices, like sea walls, that already exist on Marin’s coast “cannot be used to make a case for stability.”
Mr. Liebster asked how it would be possible for some homeowners seeking a coastal permit to prove the stability of their existing development without relying on the protection devices already in place.
Mr. Kinsey also found the language blunt. “The idea that to respond to sea-level rise, we can’t consider any existing armoring of the coast as we consider remodels, repairs or new development… something like that could have a devastating effect on Stinson Beach… If you were to eliminate consideration of the sea wall, you could prevent rebuilding of any of those homes,” he said.
The staff report also says shoreline development, like in Stinson Beach, will now need to undertake the same studies to determine setbacks currently required for bluff-top development in Bolinas and Muir Beach.
And when 50 percent or more of a building is renovated or altered, either in a single project or cumulatively with multiple coastal permits, it should be considered “redevelopment” and treated the same as new development.
This in itself is not necessarily a new requirement—the Marshall Tavern’s coastal permit was subjected to a 50-percent benchmark. But Mr. Liebster said it was unclear to him how exactly the commission planned to measure that 50 percent in the new L.C.P. He also wondered how homes that will need to replace foundations or be raised to comply with coming requirements from FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program will be affected, and how that will figure into redevelopment calculations.
“Inquiring minds want to know, and hopefully we’ll be able to clear this up before May 15,” he said.
Another major shift between the current and proposed L.C.P. pertains to agriculture, which encompasses almost two thirds—over 30,000 acres—of the county’s coastal zone.
“We are very, very pleased that they’ve accepted some of the basic premises that we have on protecting agricultural land and agricultural operations and the family farms that make them happen,” Mr. Liebster said.
The current plan designated some agricultural uses as principal permitted uses, meaning they are generally not appealable to the commission, but the new plan defines agriculture itself as a principal permitted use. That means farm worker and intergenerational housing—currently conditional and appealable uses—will be considered principal uses, as long as the parcel is large enough and adheres to square footage limitations.
The fact that commission staff was generally on board with the shift is a boon to ranches and dairies that say allowing multiple generations to live on ranchland will bolster their sustainability and help pass along family businesses to children.
Wade Holland, the planning commissioner who represents West Marin, said that commission staff were originally wary of allowing intergenerational homes as a principal use. But through a new approach of working with counties extensively before submittal of L.C.P.s, the two camps discussed many disagreements beforehand.
“We were a guinea pig. [W]e worked collaboratively with the commission from the beginning. There were early alerts about what wouldn’t fly, and we had the opportunity to work with their staff and educate them about what we wanted and why,” he said.
The staff report pushed back on allowing some uses, like agricultural homestays, to be designated principal uses. But, Mr. Liebster said, “At some point you have to pick your battles, and we’ll have to see where that [line] is.”
A public hearing on Marin’s L.C.P. will take place on Thursday, May 15, at the Inverness Yacht Club (12852 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard). The meeting begins at 8:30 a.m.; the L.C.P. is the twelfth item on the agenda. The agenda and staff report can be found at http://www.coastal.ca.gov/mtgcurr.html.