Coastal commission asked to codify help for communities

03/25/2020

Marin’s seaside villages wrote to the California Coastal Commission last month with feedback on the agency’s draft strategic planning document, which sets management priorities for the next five years, and had one primary request: the plan must further protect and relieve the villages from growing droves of recreational visitors. 

The commission discussed all public comments it received at a hearing in Santa Cruz on March 11, and at that time anticipated the document would be finalized by May.

The Alliance of Marin Coastal Villages, a group of representatives from every West Marin town between Dillon Beach and Muir Beach, spearheaded the local effort to analyze the plan. 

The strategic plan identifies 189 priority actions for the commission through 2025, dividing them into nine general goals. Among those are enhancing agency capacity and maintaining an effective and diverse workforce; maximizing public access and recreation for all; protecting and enhancing coastal resources; supporting resilient coastal communities in the face of climate change and sea-level rise; advancing diversity, equity, environmental justice and tribal relations; continuing to enhance Local Coastal Program planning; and expanding enforcement. 

The estimated cost of implementing the new plan is $18.8 million, including 81 new hires. At the March hearing, staff told commissioners they thought this spending was necessary to fully comply with the mandate of the 1972 Coastal Act, which seeks to protect both public access and natural resources. 

A February letter penned by the village alliance chair, Jennifer Blackman, advocated for one change. Within the discussion of the management of coastal resources, she asked for the addition of a new objective titled, “Protect the unique character of special communities and neighborhoods.” The objective, Ms. Blackman pointed out, aligns with similar language in the Coastal Act, but requires further description in the strategic plan. 

Ms. Blackman outlined three parts to the new objective. The first part is the commission’s commitment in the planning of Local Coastal Programs to “provide guidance on the protection of special communities and neighborhoods that, because of their unique characteristics, are popular visitor destination points for recreational uses.” The second part is to “encourage sensible management solutions and sources of financial support where increased coastal tourism threatens environmental resources, the character of coastal communities, the financial ability of local agencies to serve tourist needs, and the visitor experience.”

Lastly, Ms. Blackman wrote that the commission should conduct outreach through guidance documents, webinars and workshops for coastal communities to promote information sharing on key issues relating to the management of increasing tourism. 

The letter lists the impacts from tourism that are most cumbersome—excessive trash, stress on local water and sanitation systems, a shortage of public bathrooms, traffic congestion, traffic-related threats to public safety, noise, the disturbance of fragile local ecosystems and parking challenges. 

“The villages face significant financial and logistical challenges to providing services to the additional visitors while at the same time protecting the coastal environment and maintaining their community character,” the letter emphasizes. “Indeed, it is the very special character of these villages that makes them such popular visitor destinations in the first place.” 

The alliance also suggests an addition to the vision statement of the Coastal Act itself. That vision includes, “The coast endures as a vital part of California’s social and cultural fabric and the coastal and ocean economy is strong.” With the alliance’s recommendation, another section of the vision statement would read, “Scenic rural landscapes are maintained, coastal agriculture is flourishing, the unique characteristics of the special communities and neighborhoods that attract coastal visitors are preserved, and cultural resources are protected.”

Supervisor Rodoni, in his own letter submitted on Feb. 11, expressed his support for every aspect of the alliance’s proposal. He had some additions. 

The supervisor asked for an explicit commitment from the commission in its fourth goal, which handles sea-level rise, to seek to help existing coastal communities survive. As an example, he mentioned Bolinas specifically, and said the commission must balance the need to preserve access to the beaches with protections for the residents. (Of late, the commission has been reluctant to allow armoring proposed by those with bluff-top homes in Bolinas.)

In another recommendation inspired by recent issues in Bolinas, the supervisor asked for a new objective that promotes resident permit parking plans. (After much turmoil both within the community and between the county and the commission, pilot parking restrictions targeting oversized vehicles will go into effect next month in downtown Bolinas; previous proposals for a resident parking plan were discarded by the commission.)

Within the section of the plan titled “Diversity, Equity, Environmental Justice, and Tribal Relations,” the supervisor also had specific language he wanted to add. Two new objectives should be included, he wrote: one to streamline permitting processes to increase and expand affordable housing opportunities for the workforce, service workers, emergency responders and rangers, and another to develop programs to diversify the coast through low-cost access options, including affordable camping. 

The alliance’s letter not only received support from the supervisor but also the Community Development Agency, which submitted feedback to the commission in mid-February. Brian Crawford, the director of the agency, described the alliance’s requests as key changes. 

Still, he was largely in favor of the draft, and commended the commission’s proposed method of tackling climate change, which includes education, implementing adaptation projects and collaborating with local governments to update Local Coastal Programs. (Two sections that pertain to environmental hazards are outstanding in Marin’s update to its coastal program, which defines the ground rules for future development on the coast.)

The commission’s strategic plan outlines the need for creating guidance documents to implement its goals, and Mr. Crawford emphasized that these should be developed collaboratively with local communities “to ensure that such guidance reflects community-specific factors and is practical, feasible and enforceable at the local level, consistent with the explicit authority provided by the state legislature and the Coastal Act.”

Several other local entities submitted their own comments in addition to supporting those of the alliance. 

The East Shore Planning Group described Marshall as the “poster child” for the need for special protections. “Since the narrow-gauge railway from Sausalito opened in the 1870s, Marshall has been a mecca for tourists seeking the coastal experiences of boating, fishing, hunting and enjoyment of the rural beauty, as well as consuming oysters and other locally harvested seafood,” the group wrote. “But the area’s increasing popularity, as well as conditions imposed by the Coastal Commission and its staff in connection with coastal development permits, are very real threats to the community’s viability for visitors and residents alike.”

The board chair of Bolinas Community Public Utility District, Jack Siedman, also wrote in. Under the section that handles public access, he said, the commission should focus on the promotion of public visitation to the undeveloped sections of the coast that are not overburdened by the impacts of excess visitation. 

During the March 11 meeting, the commission discussed the public’s comments from across the state, including 67 written comments and those provided at a previous discussion. Staff broke down the types of comments, which were received from local governments, state and federal agencies, nonprofits and other stakeholders. 

Commenters reiterated some of the concerns in West Marin. Some asked for more timely and efficient processing of Local Coastal Program updates and better coordination across state agencies to avoid duplication and conflicting requirements for coastal projects. Increasing coastal access for historically disadvantaged communities was also stressed. 

Katie Rice, the supervisor from Marin’s second district who serves as one of the 12 commissioners, addressed the comments at the March 11 hearing. She said that representatives could not be there due to concerns about Covid-19. 

She urged her fellow commissioners to take the comments seriously. 

“I think that we need to be so mindful that there are so many communities maybe not past a tipping point, but at a tipping point with regard to their ability to withstand a level of visitation that they are getting,” she said. “How can we try to—without deterring, without pushing back on public access—steer people toward other places, and try to spread the load, so to speak?”

 

The strategic plan can be viewed in full at www.coastal.ca.gov/strategicplan/spindex-2.html. Questions regarding its development may be directed to StrategicPlanComments@coastal.ca.gov. Action on a final strategic plan is expected to take place in April or May.