Last week, the California Coastal Commission came to West Marin—for the first time in its 40-year history—for three days of meetings. History was made again when the 12-person commission unanimously approved the major land use plan update of our Local Coastal Program for the first time in 32 years. The next step will come when the commission acts on the county’s corresponding Implementation Plan before the end of 2014.
The L.C.P. serves as the regulatory guide for all development and resource protection in the county’s coastal zone. When it is approved, the county will have authority to issue permits for all uses consistent with the plan. Local approvals can be appealed to the Planning Commission, and on to the Board of Supervisors. Permits on agricultural lands west of Highway 1 or those less than 100 feet from a wetland or stream will continue to be appealable to the state commission.
Completing the L.C.P. update has been an expensive, time-consuming process. It has taken over five years will have cost $1.5 million when complete. The plan was built on a foundation of public participation, including 19 workshops, nine public hearings before the Planning Commission and seven hearings before the supervisors, who unanimously adopted it in July 2013. It has been under significant scrutiny and analysis by commission staff since that time, with literally hundreds of Coastal Act policies were examined in advance of last week’s hearing. Reaching unanimous agreement between county planners and commission staff is an impressive achievement that required persistent and collaborative dialogue.
The land use plan approval signaled a success for the commission as well. Updating L.C.P.s in a timely and cooperative manner is an identified priority of the commission’s strategic plan. Management of the state’s coastal resources by local communities, under strong and detailed rules, is essential so that commission staff can focus more attention on wide-ranging policy challenges facing our entire California coast, including sea-level rise, fracking and desalination.
During the hearing, commissioners, including myself, focused most of our attention on Marin’s agricultural, sea-level rise and resource protection policies. Because the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin issued a frightening attack on the plan just days before the hearing, commission staff worked overtime to prepare detailed responses to the group’s claims. They reported that “comments indicating that the LUP is somehow increasing development potential are incorrect”, adding “development potential is, if anything, the same or reduced.
The entire Board of Supervisors publicly appreciated the commission’s approval and our staff’s hard work at this week’s meeting. I am personally thankful that commission staff took the time to refute the E.A.C.’s incorrect assertions, because I know how disconcerting the claims were.
West Marin is a rare and fragile place. It has been blessed with remarkable natural resources, historic working landscapes and compact villages. Many people over many decades have worked hard to hold onto the rich environment we cherish. We are a diverse community with a wide array of preferences and opinions about our sacred place. That is all healthy and strengthening; however, it is not helpful to build walls around one’s preferences and use unfounded fear to sway less-informed neighbors. That turns important civic dialogue into a positional tug of war. It disregards our heritage of working across differences to find shared solutions, and it tears the fabric of trust needed to reach broad consensus on other issues confronting our sense of place.
I will continue to passionately defend West Marin’s deep and historic efforts to preserve our lands and way of life. The L.C.P. that moved closer to the finish line last week will help us achieve that goal.
Forest Knolls resident Steve Kinsey is a member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors. He also serves as a state senate appointment to the Coastal Commission, and was selected to be its chair in December 2013. He has lived in West Marin since 1978.