California Coast Act

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, Californian’s became increasingly alarmed at the break-neck speed at which the California Coast was being developed. Although California’s Coast stretched 1,100 miles, less than 25% of the coast was accessible to the public. Coastal Management was within the fractured and often overlapping jurisdiction of 15 counties, 45 cities, 42 state entities and 70 federal agencies. Local control of coastal development decisions often meant no control, because local government was dominated by development interests. (See, Stanley Scott, GOVERNING CALIFORNIA’S COAST (1975).)

Between 1969 and 1971, several attempts by coastal activist to spur the California legislature to adopt State-wide coastal environmental legislation had failed. Thus, coastal activists decided to work through the initiate process. In 1972 a citizen initiative, Proposition 20, was voted on requiring the preparation of a State-wide plan to control development and protect the environment along California’s Coast. Despite well-funded opposition from industry groups and companies such as Bechtel, General Electric, Southern California Edison, Standard Oil Company, Mobil Oil Corp., Gulf Oil Co., Texaco, the Irvine Company, American Automobile Association and the California Real Estate Association (partial list), Proposition 20 was approved by a vote of 54% of California voters. Pursuant to Prop. 20, a state-wide plan was prepared which served as the basis of what we currently know as the Coastal Act of 1976.

The California Coastal Act generally controls development between the Ocean to approximately 1,000 feet inland. In most places, a Local Coastal Program or Plan (LCP) is prepared by the local jurisdiction and approved by the Coastal Commission. The LCP must be consistent with the Coastal Act, and provides the specific policies and regulations to control development. Once an LCP is prepared and approved, the majority of development decisions within the Coastal Zone solely within the discretion of the local government. However, certain development decisions, such as local decisions on development located between the beach and the first road may be appealed to the Coastal Commission. In addition, development within state tide lands (ie, below mean high-tide) are within the original jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission.

Todd T. Cardiff has years of experience working as an activist and attorney along the Coast. He has worked closely with the local Coastal Commission office, argued numerous times in front of the Coastal Commission and has even filed litigation challenging Coastal Commission’s decision. His law review article: Conflict in the California Coastal Act: Sand and Seawalls, 38 Cal. West. L.R. 255 (2001), received wide spread acclaim and served as the basis for both litigation and state-wide legislation. Mr. Cardiff has the experience and the reputation to assist you in navigating the sometimes confusing coastal development permit process as either an opponent/appellant or an applicant.