Local Coastal Program alert


Last May, the California Coastal Commission approved updates to the Marin County Local Coastal Program, which was developed from 2009 to 2014. The program guides all human activities in the county’s coastal zone, which includes the majority of West Marin’s communities. The next step in the process is for the Board of Supervisors and the Coastal Commission to approve the proposed amendments to the program’s Implementation Plan—the “devil in the details”—that will guide human activities in the coastal zone. While much of the public debate has been focused on agriculture and resource conservation, one overlooked aspect of the L.C.P. update is how home businesses are treated in residential zones.  

Marin County differentiates between “home occupancy” businesses, which have no outside employees but may use accessory structures on their property, and “cottage industries,” which have outside employees. Having outside employees suggests a larger-scale business operation, which can have negative impacts to the surrounding neighborhood. Therefore, while a home occupancy business in the coastal zone is considered a permitted use, a cottage industry is required to have a use permit, which costs anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000, and a coastal permit, which costs $13,000. This provides funding for the county and Coastal Commission staff to analyze any potential impacts of the business to the neighboring residential community.

Unfortunately, the commission staff’s draft language for the Implementation Plan does not differentiate between home occupancy and cottage industry businesses. In effect, all new home businesses would be required to obtain both use and coastal permits, costing between $14,000 and $23,000. This would apply to jewelry, visual art, photography and woodworking businesses. As most new entrepreneurs can’t afford such high fees, the commission staff’s proposed language is a de facto prohibition on most new start-up entrepreneurs in the coastal zone. Meanwhile, as Marin County rightly describes them, home occupation businesses usually have negligible impacts on the surrounding neighborhood, eliminating the need for use or coastal development permits. 

Try to imagine all of the people in our communities in West Marin who paint, craft jewelry, cater, build furniture and make clothing or crafts out of their homes. Sole proprietor entrepreneurship has helped to drive the diversity, uniqueness and self-reliance that define our small communities, and has empowered scores of local citizens to earn a living through their passions. If these permit requirements had been passed 20 years ago, with proportionately prohibitive fees, our communities would look much different today, and for the worse.  

Please help me stop the California Coastal Commission staff’s proposal from becoming law. Address your letter to Kevin Kahn, Supervising Coastal Planner, California Coastal Commission, 725 Front Street, Suite 300, Santa Cruz, CA 95060-4508, and copy it to Marin County Board of Supervisors, 3501 Civic Center Drive, Suite 329, San Rafael, CA 94903. Letters can be sent electronically to Kevin.Kahn@coastal.ca.gov and copied to bos@marincounty.org.

If you need them, here are some talking point for your letters. 

“I am writing to comment on the C.C.C.’s Suggested Modifications to the Marin L.C.P. Implementation Plan (e.g. development code).” 

“Artisanal home businesses are an important part of the economic and cultural fabric of our communities in the coastal zone.”

“Home occupation businesses are one of the only ways for many local people to start their own businesses in our rural communities.”

“Such artisanal businesses have widespread support in our communities.” 

“I oppose requiring that home occupancy businesses (no outside employees) be required to get a use permit and coastal permit.”

“It’s a de facto prohibition on starting new artisanal businesses, because most people could not afford the prohibitively high permit costs. Meanwhile, as shown by existing home occupancy businesses, the impacts are negligible.” 

“Such permit fees would be the nail in the coffin for the next generation of local citizens making a livelihood out here through starting their own businesses—unless they are already wealthy.” 

“Solution: Marin County differentiates between home occupancy businesses (no outside employees) and cottage industries (outside employees), and does not place additional restrictions on the use of accessory structures on the property. Home occupancy businesses should be treated as a permitted use.”

“We urge the C.C.C. to adopt a policy that allows home occupancy businesses (no outside employees, use of accessory structures) as a permitted use in the coastal zone.” 

If we can get enough emails and letters to the commission staff, we should be able to provide the needed local support for the Marin County Community Development Agency and Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who is a member of the Coastal Commission, to convince the commission to make the necessary changes. One important note: The Marin County Planning Department, Liza Crosse and others have been very responsive and helpful during my fact-finding process, so please express your support for their great work. 


Frederick Smith has been a Marin resident since he moved to Inverness in 2006 to run the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin (save for a brief year somewhere else). Since leaving this role in 2010, he attained an M.B.A. from the University of California, Davis, consults for farmers and food entrepreneurs, works as the North Coast regional coordinator for California Farmlink, and volunteers in leadership roles for the Point Reyes Farmers Market and Mt. Vision Local Investment Opportunities Network.