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Development along the California Coast

It has been reported that the Board of Directors of the California Coastal Commission removed its director for performance issues. While the merits of his removal have been largely debated, most people do not understand the role of the California Coastal Commission with respect to the development of land. Allow me to explain the Coastal Commission to you.

The Coastal Commission, established by a vote of the people in 1972, was given the task of protecting the extensive state coastline from over-development, preventing environmental harm and safeguarding it for public access. The Coastal Act came about after a developer’s proposal including blocking off 10 miles of Northern California coastline for private use  spurred activist groups in the state to place the Act – Proposition 20- on the ballot. The voters approved it overwhelmingly, despite an intense, bitter campaign against waged by developers and their lobbyists.

Considered the most powerful land-use agency in the nation, it has served as a model for other states seeking to preserve undeveloped land. In 1976, the Legislature enacted the California Coastal Act, which established a far- reaching coastal protection program and made permanent the California Coastal Commission as it exists today. The Commission plans and regulates development and natural resource use along the coast in partnership with local governments and in keeping with the requirements of the Coastal Act. Since its populist inception, the Commission has been frequently involved in controversial, high-profile issues that pit the commission against wealthy celebrities, major developers and property-rights activists.

The Coastal Zone extends from Oregon to Mexico and also includes about 287 miles of shoreline around nine offshore islands. Excluding San Francisco Bay, which has its own coastal management program, the Coastal Zone encompasses some 1.5 million acres of land and reaches from three miles at sea to an inland boundary that varies from a few blocks in urban areas to several miles in less developed regions.

The California Coastal Commission has planning, regulatory, and permitting responsibilities, in partnership with local governments, over all “development” taking place within the coastal zone. A Local Coastal Program consists of: (a) a land use plan (b) zoning ordinances, (c) zoning district maps, and (d) within sensitive coastal resource areas, other implementing actions. Taken together, these documents meet the requirements of and implement the provisions and policies of the Coastal Act at the local level. Once the LCP is certified by the Commission most coastal development permit authority is delegated to the local government. The Commission retains permit jurisdiction over certain specified lands (such as tidelands and public trust lands). Local government actions may in some cases be appealed to the Commission (e.g. development within 300 feet of the shoreline, within 100 feet of wetlands and streams, and large public works projects).

The Commission also reviews and acts on port master plans and master plan amendments from the industrial ports of Hueneme, Los Angeles, Long Beach, and San Diego. Commission approval is necessary to allow port expansions to meet future growth needs. A similar requirement applies to long range development plans of universities in the coastal zone (e.g., the University of California campuses at Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, and San Diego; Pepperdine University; and San Diego State University).

Local governments may amend a certified LCP to add new policies, ordinances, maps or other necessary components, or to make changes to existing information. Amendments to certified LCPs only become effective after approval by the Commission. Similarly, Port Districts and Universities may choose to update and/or change their Port Master Plans or University Long-Range Development Plans (LRDPs); such changes must be reviewed by the Commission before they become effective. California’s coastal management program is carried out through a partnership between state and local governments. Implementation of Coastal Act policies is accomplished primarily through the preparation of local coastal programs (LCPs) that are completed by each of the 15 counties and 60 cities located in whole or in part in the coastal zone. Development within the coastal zone may not commence until a coastal development permit has been.

If you wish to develop land along the California Coast, contact one of the professionals at Dalton & Tomich PLC to assist you with your development.



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