LCP finalized, minus policies on hazards

07/21/2021

Marin County’s updated Local Coastal Program will go into effect within a month, following a vote by the Board of Supervisors last Tuesday to approve the final document. Yet the update, which will guide development in the coastal zone in compliance with the California Coastal Act, excludes the chapter on environmental hazards policy, upsetting some groups that are eager to see new guidelines on threats like sea-level rise and wildfire. The hazards chapter was last updated in 1982; now, the county has until next spring to finalize it. 

At a hearing last Tuesday, supervisors accepted the staff recommendation presented by Jack Liebster, a planning manager with the Community Development Agency who has led the update process over the past 13 years. In accepting the staff recommendation, the board rejected an amendment proposed by Supervisor Dennis Rodoni that would have delayed the implementation process until the hazards chapter is finished. 

Supervisor Rodoni expressed his concern over the slow timeline for the hazards update. “I think part of the reason we’re here questioning this action today is because in the past five years, we’ve had some lack of performance when it comes to the hazards,” he said, adding that the delays were “not all staff’s fault.” He later told the Light that he “was trying to demonstrate the frustration that our residents and our environmental groups have had over the last four years. Obviously, the board took another path and I’m quite happy with that.”

The county has a complete draft of the hazards policy, Mr. Liebster said. The main process that remains is public involvement; a series of meetings with stakeholders, including environmental groups and public utilities, will take place over the next year. “All the interests need to be able to work together to get something that everybody can accept, otherwise we’re stuck with the policies that are from 1982,” he said. 

The county’s decision last week was guided by a letter from the California Coastal Commission explaining that the supervisors had the authority to implement the amended Local Coastal Program without additional review from the commission and with the hazards section outstanding. The letter arrived the day before the meeting, and came as a surprise to both supervisors and the environmental groups that objected to their decision. Initially, the board had been told they’d have to certify the update all at once, and only after additional approval by the commission.

Last Tuesday, the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin and the Surfrider Foundation urged supervisors not to delay the environmental hazards update any further. “How can we say we’re a leader on climate change policy, when we’re going to have a 1980s policy on environmental hazards?” asked Morgan Patton, the executive director of the E.A.C. 

The environmental hazards chapter contains out-of-date guidelines and inconsistencies, Ms. Patton said. She said the county has been promising an updated hazards policy for six years but didn’t treat it as a priority. She described last week’s decision as “kicking the can down the road.”

The top-to-bottom update of Marin’s Local Coastal Program has been a protracted and controversial process since the county initiated it in 2008, and the E.A.C. has been one of the most active participants. The organization often sparred with ranchers over the flexibility of development rights on agricultural land in the coastal zone. At the same time, the Seadrift Association and the Stinson Beach Village Association objected to definitions in the amendments that would have restricted residents’ abilities to protect or rebuild their homes from sea-level rise.

In 2017, the county withdrew the hazards chapter, and the series of hearings and board meetings that followed focused mainly on agricultural issues and definitions. In 2019, the commission certified all the new amendments except for the outstanding hazards. Because the chapter concerns potentially expensive strategies to plan for rising sea levels, the new draft hazards policies are unlikely to please everyone, Supervisor Rodoni said.  

Other members of the public supported finalizing the coastal program last week. Stacey Laumann, deputy director of the Community Land Trust Association of West Marin, said the updated plan will allow for the development of affordable housing at the former Coast Guard property in Point Reyes Station, which is zoned as Coastal Open Area—a zoning that currently does not allow most residential uses. “We are relying on the new L.C.P.,” she told supervisors last week.

Ken Levin, a member of the E.A.C., said he disagreed with the environmental group’s stance and recognized the difficulty of the work that the county was doing to update the policy. “To put a stop sign in front of everything right now would not be in the best interests of the county and the citizens, or the environment,” he said.