COMMENTARY | COLUMNISTS | JOEL ANDERSON

State dodges a bullet after coastal panel power play

The California Coastal Commission was created by voters in 1972, charged with a mission to “protect, conserve, restore and enhance the environment of the California coastline.” To this day, all Californians agree that it’s important that we are good stewards of our state’s majestic coast.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the Coastal Commission has abused its power and stepped well beyond its original mission. This is why a recent failed power play by Democratic legislators attempting to grant new powers to the California Coastal Commission (CCC) alarmed so many Californians.

Assembly Bill 976 would have given the commission the sole authority to levy fines and impose administrative civil penalties for violations of the Coastal Act, rather than requiring the Commission to seek penalties through a Superior Court, as provided by existing law.

The fines are hardly pocket change; the commission could have charged homeowners or business owners penalties up to $11,250 for each day the violation persisted.

This unchecked power to punish creates a fundamentally unfair process, which is why several of my colleagues and I offered amendments that would protect our coastline and ensure the California Coastal Commission was held accountable for its decisions.

These amendments would have leveled the playing field by providing that the Commission be held personally liable and that the decisions could be contested in court. The amendments would also have allowed triple damages be awarded for violations determined in error and provided that the state be held accountable to the provisions of this bill through third-party enforcement.

If this state agency can set its own fines, we should make the California Coastal Commission personally responsible.

All Californians deserve due process. That is why the powers to investigate, prosecute, and then judge and punish offenders must be separated. Any time those powers to accuse and punish are granted to a single agency, it erodes due process and takes away our civil rights.

While the majority party didn’t even allow these amendments an up-or-down vote on the floor, enough attention was brought to the fundamental unfairness of the bill that several Assembly members were forced to change their position, and AB 976 died on the Assembly floor.

California taxpayers dodged a bullet this time, but the bill will be back. It is important to ensure that citizens’ rights to due process are protected and that the Coastal Commission is not given full powers of prosecutor, judge and jury.

We must stay vigilant to make sure state agencies and elected leaders stay accountable to the people. Let us ensure our precious California coastline remains open and protected for all Californians to enjoy, and protect the rights of all of our citizens.

Anderson represents the 36th state Senate District, which includes parts of San Diego and Riverside Counties.

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Francis Drouillard 11:53am October 19, 2013

A few reforms to the California Coastal Commission are needed so that they better uphold the California Coastal Act of 1972. They need to consider the needs of all Californians as required by Section 30001.5(b) of the Act: "Assure orderly, balanced utilization and conservation of coastal zone resources taking into account the social and economic needs of the people of the state." Those needs include better private property rights and "environmental justice." The legislature could help reign in a power-hungry Coastal Commission by better defining "environmentally sensitive habitat areas" and "wetlands" that the commission is required to protect. Current working definitions enable the commission to keep expanding its authority without the blessing of the Legislature.

anonymous 9:25am October 19, 2013

Good for you! I worked for and with this abusive agency for years. On the whole, these unelected Commissioners, and their staff, are prejudiced and vindictive. The Commission has far outlived its usefulness. Local government is now fully capable of husbanding development in order to protect the coastal environment.