Coastal plan set to strike balance of interests

David Briggs
The coastal plan would allow some homes in Stinson to be raised to adapt to climate change.

Planning officials and seaboard residents who have negotiated a new development-regulations regime for half a decade will have to wait at least two more months before their proposed Local Coastal Program (LCP) amendments are sent to the California Coastal Commission.

Divergent stakeholders are still weighing in as the Marin County Board of Supervisors updates the sprawling, unaltered 1981 land-use document, which will govern 48,255 acres of shoreline development from Dillon Beach to Stinson Beach and could shape environmental, agricultural, housing, energy, tourism and transportation policy for decades.

Environmental groups such as the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin have fought for regulations they say would preserve coastal land and marine habitats, including limiting industrial wind-energy development and agricultural-land augmentation.

Those goals have occasionally conflicted with agriculture industry advocates like Marin County Farm Bureau President Dominic Grossi, who wrote in a letter last month to the Board of Supervisors that zoning policies must allow greater flexibility for farmers and ranchers to “adapt or die.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting the farm bureau asked board members to revise the LCP language to provide a categorical exemption from a Coastal Commission permitting process for all agricultural land and allow the ability to develop more than two so-called intergenerational properties for family members. The farm bureau said the issue was one of allowing ranchers and others in the agriculture industry the ability to survive by enjoying full rights to their property.

“Development rights have value to both the government (in the form of taxes) and landowners,” Mr. Grossi wrote. “Development rights must be purchased, not taken. It’s important to point out that most, if not all development proposals must go through a number of permitting processes. By allowing additional homes, it is not as if farmers and ranchers will have free development reign.”

The farm bureau also opposed regulations on “visual obstructions” and argued that proposed disclosure requirements for property owners near protected habitats—which board members appear poised to scrap—would amount to an illegal invasion of privacy.

The latest draft of the LCP amendments, presented by planning staff at the fifth hearing on the subject with supervisors on Tuesday, sanction new permitted development of two houses on agricultural land “for members of the farm operator’s or owner’s immediate family”; restrict impacts to wetlands, streams, dunes, nesting habitats and riparian vegetation areas; and prevent the “obstruction of significant views” of the waterside.

Board members also considered for their next draft contentious proposals around wind-energy generation and second units to alleviate West Marin’s housing shortage. Supervisor Steve Kinsey argued that the prospects for clean wind-energy development in Marin are fleeting without clear and region-appropriate standards, and he recommended Tuesday that the board decline to create a littoral wind-energy policy at this time.

“We think we’re facilitating renewable energy,” he said. “We’re not.”

The Marin Audubon Society is among local groups who have denounced the towering wind turbines as an eyesore and threat to birds and bats. The board decided Tuesday to decline to regulate wind-energy policies in their next draft of the LCP.

Meanwhile affordable housing advocates Bolinas Community Land Trust and Community Land Trust of West Marin argued that lower hurdles to development would help lower-income renters. “We submit that in order to rent affordably, one must be able to build affordably,” three housing advocates wrote in a joint letter.

The supervisors considered language for the LCP that could streamline the permitting process for second units by eliminating public hearings for land-use appeals, but they decided instead to ask county staff to develop regulatory alternatives that can be considered after the LCP process ends.

Other staff recommendations approved Tuesday for the shoreline plan include a limit on visitor-serving zoning in downtown Point Reyes Station and a goal to expand Stagecoach public transit to West Marin. The proposed policy suggested that such transportation improvements could be financed with parking or congestion fees.

“The LCP work is getting closed to finished. It’s going to continue to be a very protective document, limit development significantly in West Marin, create a high bar—or continue, actually, the high bar—for resource protection and ensure that public access to the coast is maintained,” Mr. Kinsey said. He said the board is working to maintain “viability for existing agriculture by giving them more flexibility, the opportunity to diversify their operations and to allow family members who aren’t directly involved in agriculture to live on the property without having to go through a huge and expensive process of subdivision and coastal master plans.”

Environmentalists are looking to see the “buffer zones” around protected habitats expanded and doubt that the Coastal Commission will approve of additional residential development on agricultural lands. Despite those issues, Environmental Action Committee Board President Bridger Mitchell said the LCP process has “taken a very long time and there are a number of issues that have received attention and some improvement.”

Board members expect to be able to finalize their amendments at their April 16 meeting and forward them to the Coastal Commission for certification. Coastal Commission staff could take another several years to consider the policies.