Onward, LCP

02/16/2012

The Marin County Planning Commission voted Monday to approve the draft Local Coastal Program (LCP) for submission to the Board of Supervisors.

Although the process of updating the existing 31-year-old LCP is far from complete—after approval by the board, the draft will be reviewed and ratified by the California Coastal Commission—Monday’s decision marked the culmination of over three years of work by the commission and planning staff. The vote came at the end of what was the ninth formal hearing on the draft.

“I wish we had another 60 days for fine tuning and consistency checking, but as far as the big, major policy issues are concerned, I think we nailed it,” Commissioner Wade Holland, who motioned for the vote, said. “How we set [the policies] out and whether we’ve always got internal consistency—we could probably find problems. But I think we’ve got the right mix of policies, and I don’t think we punted any big, major issues to the board.”   

Although Monday’s hearing was centered on minute alterations to the language of the draft, Holland said the final updates were nonetheless significant. 

“There were inconsistencies and contradictions that we caught, especially in the biological resources and ag sections,” Holland said. “I think probably the most important thing that happened today was [planning] staff making really clear what is required for a coastal permit and how it stands in for what we used to require a master plan for. I’ve been very pleased that we’re sort of getting rid of the master plan.”

Under the existing LCP, a master plan is required of nearly all construction projects, but the mandate is routinely waived for small-scale property development. As planning staff explained to the commissioners, coastal permit requirements for development proposals are usually equally or more restrictive than master plan requirements, in effect precluding the need for a master plan. The updated draft’s omission of the requirement for most properties is intended to simplify the application process without compromising regulation standards. 

The commission also adopted the so-called “Woody Elliott provision”—an addition to language in the development code that allows for major vegetation removal in order to minimize risk to life and property “or to promote the health and survival of surrounding vegetation native to the locale.”

Elliott, a retired professional land manager, was initially motivated to petition for the change because under existing language he would have to pay upwards of $9,000 in permits to remove five trees—one of which is a heritage redwood—that threaten native coast live oaks and overall forest health on his property in Seahaven.

“I contend that what has not been considered [in the LCP] is the impact of vegetation on forest health,” Elliott said. “What people seem to be appreciating is the adverse effect of trees on themselves or their property. That’s being taken care of. What’s not being taken care of is the effect of vegetation on itself.”  

After the vote, cake and champagne were provided for commissioners and planners.

“It’s a good feeling,” said principal planner Jack Liebster. “I wouldn’t call it jubilant because we know that there’s still a lot ahead of us, but it’s a very significant step that the LCP took today.”