The California Coastal Commission overrides the elected governments of counties and cities on the state’s 1,100-mile shoreline. That amounts to enormous power for an unelected body, but now a state advisory body wants to give the CCC even more clout.
Currently, if the Coastal Commission wants to punish cities and counties, it must file a case in superior court. That due legal process appears to trouble the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, a body “providing fiscal and policy advice to the Legislature for more than 70 years,” according to its website, and “known for its fiscal and programmatic expertise and nonpartisan analyses of the state budget.”
In a recent analysis, the LAO recommends that “the Legislature grant the California Coastal Commission the authority to levy administrative civil penalties in order to reduce the costs of enforcing compliance with the commission’s regulations and to stabilize funding for related activities. We further recommend that a special fund be created within the commission for receipt of penalty revenues.”
The LAO analysis finds that the current process is “cumbersome,” and results in “few fines and penalties.” Those have remained “stable” at $150,000 but the LAO thinks that letting the CCC bypass the courts could rake in more money. The LAO plan appears solely based on fundraising potential, and unrelated to any pressing environmental problem. Other issues are in play here.
Coastal cities and counties, and their residents, put much time and money into preparation of their building plans. That all goes to waste if the CCC nixes them as a violation of the Coastal Act, and it doesn’t take much for the CCC to nix anything. Known for zealotry, the commission blocks projects simply because it has the power to do so. Unlike city and county officials, coastal commissioners need not face the voters.
The CCC sometimes loses in court, and it strives to keep those defeats hushed up. The plan to bypass the courts would make the commission more of a law unto itself than it already is.
The LAO should re-analyze the legislation that launched the 15-member CCC, along with its record, and assess whether we need such a body. A nonpartisan independent body known for “fiscal and programmatic expertise” should be able to assess whether scores of duly elected governments on California’s coast are capable of managing their own affairs.
If revenue is the issue, new development would bring a lot more than any fines the CCC could levy. By blocking development in coastal areas, much California housing development takes place in hot inland areas, where air conditioning gets heavy use in cars and houses alike and drives up energy demands. So the CCC is also environmentally counterproductive.
If the Legislature heeds the LAO’s bad advice and lets the CCC bypass the courts, perhaps the commission could imprison its own corrupt officials such as Mark Nathanson. His creative revenue scheme involved shaking down celebrities for bribes in exchange for building permits.
The combination of Mafia-style corruption and Stalinist regulation is another good reason to dump the Coastal Commission. In a near-bankrupt state, a Legislature and governor serious about reform would abolish all redundant, counterproductive and abusive government bodies at the earliest convenience.
K. Lloyd Billingsley is editorial director of the California-based Pacific Research Institute (www.pacificresearch.org).