In a rare four-day session, the Coastal Commission gave the heart of one day to hearing and approving a $6 billion project to expand the I-5 transportation corridor north of San Diego. It spent even more of another day deciding to close the Children's Pool during seal pupping season in La Jolla. And as special beach access legislation moved toward the Governor's desk, discussion returned repeatedly to the Commission's dispute over Martins Beach in San Mateo County with property owner Vinod Khosla.

The I-5 corridor project is to add four new express lanes with other rail, highway, mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Commissioner Gregory Cox, a San Diego County Supervisor, catalogued the project's span of six cities, four Local Coastal Programs (LCPs), six lagoons, 27 miles of roads and bike paths, and 86 different projects to unfold over 40 years, saying it's "mind-boggling to me".

It arrived at the Commission as largely a done deal, backed by a parade of local government officials. But environmental concerns came up at the meeting over increased emissions from the expansion, and over concern for movement of water and wildlife around the lagoons that have outlets to the ocean running under the freeway.

Caltrans staffer Gabriel Buhr gave the core presentation on the plan, known formally as the North Coast Public Works Plan / Transportation and Resource Enhancement Program (PWP/TREP). The Commission approved enabling revisions to the LCPs for San Diego, Encinitas, Carlsbad and Oceanside.

Critics from the Cleveland National Forest Foundation presented the harshest criticisms of the expected greenhouse gas emissions, saying health impacts and lower-emissions alternatives had not been adequately considered, and claimed the project was justified with an outdated model that overestimated future traffic growth. A Sierra Club representative made a presentation expressing concern for the project's ability to do its share toward 2030 and 2050 carbon emission reduction goals.

Commissioner Dayna Bochco issued a valedictory call for more rapid transit statewide but said "that's going to take a will of the people that we haven't seen yet."

For local coverage see, e.g., the City News Service report via ABC 10 News at

Children's Pool closure approved

The Commission agreed to close the Children's Pool for seal pupping season between December 15 and May 15, per the staff report as confirmed by the U-T account at The closure faced local opposition, in part because the pool is used for therapeutic salt-water swimming by people with disabilities. See prior coverage at

The Pacific Legal Foundation's "@TheCoastWatch" Twitter account, which makes a monthly point of livetweeting Coastal Commission meetings, was posting updates on the highway expansion matter for about four hours including an hour-plus lunch break. It posted about the Children's Pool for a total duration of six hours, including a lunch break followed by closed session that together lasted about an hour and three-quarters.

Martins Beach: Commission "fighting back" at Khosla

The subject of Martins Beach kept coming up through the session, via staff reports, Commissioners' comments and public comment, with a continuing sense that the Commission's own dignity had been placed at issue by Khosla's heavy criticisms of demands from the Commission. (See After the SF Chronicle published an op-ed by Khosla at, Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester responded in an answering SF Chronicle commentary at Khosla had made derogatory comments about "unreasonable" Commission and San Mateo County demands in July (see Later that month the Commission began to conduct a "prescriptive rights survey" asking the public to report on past enjoyment of the beach as an amenity. (Further discussion appears in the July CP&DR PDF issue; the survey is on the Commission site at

Commissioners Steve Kinsey and Carole Groom, and the California Coastal Protection Network's Susan Jordan, thanked Lester for his op-ed. Jordan said "A lot of us were really happy to see the Commission fighting back" and described the prescriptive rights survey response as "extremely strong."

As part of his monthly Chair's Report, Kinsey said, "This Commission does respect private property rights" but said the Commission also "operate[s] under the rule of law and that's what our permitting processes would allow for."

The SB 968 Martins Beach bill, now passed by the Legislature and awaiting Governor Jerry Brown's signature decision, instructs the State Lands Commission to begin negotiations for a public access right-of-way to the property. If it does not succeed by 2016, the bill authorizes though it does not require the State Lands Commission to proceed under Section 6210.9 of the Public Resources Code, which allows use of the state's eminent domain power. The initial version of the bill had required the Commission to obtain the access whether voluntarily or otherwise. As reported by the Mercury News at and, there was a strong effort in June to remove eminent domain from the bill entirely, led by Khosla's lobbyist, Rusty Areias. Now with California Strategies, Areias is a former Assembly member and, as Jordan noted reproachfully, a former Coastal Commissioner.

The SF Chronicle has background on the bill at, including discussion of last October's court decision in favor of Khosla's right to close the access, which is now under appeal. A more recent access suit by the Surfrider Foundation completed closing arguments in July and is still under submission. The case is No. CIV 520336 in San Mateo County Superior Court, available via The legal and lobbying history is spelled out usefully in successive committee and floor analyses available on the Legislature's bill tracking page via

An argument in Khosla's favor by the Pacific Legal Foundation appears on the organization's site at, announcing inter alia, "The Commission couldn't care less about Khosla's (or any other coastal landowner's) private property rights."

Seal Beach project hung up on land swap approval

In a debate heavy on process technicalities, a tied vote of the Commission narrowly backed a staff position that an application for a 10.9-acre residential development in Seal Beach remains incomplete, primarily because part of the property is subject to a public trust easement.

Applicant Bay City Partners, supported by the local governments of Seal Beach and Marina Beach, had been asking the Commission since last fall to authorize the development, consisting of 32 single-family houses plus a park, on a cleaned-up site formerly used for a power plant. But Commission staff had repeatedly rejected the application as incomplete, seeking more assurances about future visitor-serving uses, data about the expected rate of return on the project (in part to compare with likely returns from alternative visitor-serving uses), and, most important, proof that the public trust easement rights claim would be resolved.

Bay City had proposed to compensate for the loss of public trust land status to private housing development by swapping over the easement to a different property and making a payment into a public trust lands fund. The swap requires approval by the State Lands Commission, which for its part had provided a statement saying it did not object to the Coastal Commission acting first -- but Coastal Commission staff argued the ball was in the State Lands Commission's court. Coastal Commissioner Mary Shallenberger agreed with the staff, saying, "It's their job, it's not our job."

A public commenter questioned whether the proposed substitute public-access property is as attractive as the proposed development site, and Laguna Beach activist Penny Elia told the Commission, "We continue to lose and not replace our low-cost visitor-serving accommodations. I hear you talk month after month about your desire to have this."

The August meeting's determination was only that the project application is incomplete; the application must return to the Commission for consideration on the merits.

Commissioners viewing the application as incomplete included Kinsey, who said he didn't want to insist on "rate of return" information but did want to see State Lands Commission's final action.

The Commission then wrapped up the matter by way of a tricky forest of negatives: the members reached a 5-5 tie vote on a motion to reject a determination that the application was incomplete, with the maker of the motion requesting a "no" vote. After consultation with staff counsel Hope Schmeltzer, it emerged that the vote's effect was to consider the application incomplete. Hence proponents must return with new information -- including, presumably, some more definite finding by the State Lands Commission. For more information see the agenda packet at, which includes extensive transcript material from the prior November 2013 Coastal Commission hearing on the matter.

Aliso Canyon initial hotel renovation continues for now

In the continuing Aliso Canyon hotel dispute, the project's owner and objectors made public comment appearances to dispute the propriety of continuing renovation work at the "Ranch at Laguna Beach" hotel and golf course, pending a later Coastal Commission hearing on a proposal to expand the hotel. For now Commission staff said limited renovation work could continue.

Commission staff and project proponent Mark Christy said the current work was per properly issued local permits to do safety renovations on the old hotel building within the scope of the existing structure's dimensions and hence within existing LCP limits. Laguna Beach Planning Manager Ann Larson told the Commission the current work consisted of upgrades to the existing hotel building such as electrical and plumbing work, roofing, ADA compliance, and replacing windows and doors -- as distinct from the proposal on appeal, which was "an intensification of the hotel."

Christy and coastal activist Penny Elia each reported having offered to give the other a ride to a negotiation that the other rejected. Christy said he had welcomed a thorough inspection by Coastal Commission staff, said he had invited others including Elia to inspect, and insisted, "it's a spectacularly beautiful place, it's Fenway Park to me, we're not screwing this up."

But the filer of the Coastal Commission complaint, local neighbor Mark Fudge, joined by his wife, Sharon Fudge said the current renovation work went beyond mere remodeling and should be reviewed as if it were new construction. And Suzanne Forster, vice president of the Banning Ranch Conservancy, said the hotel renovation project had already cleared and trimmed habitat areas and urged the Commission to make the owners stop work on the property until the Commission could take up the permit issue.

The Commission's deputy director for the region, Sherilyn Sarb, told the Commission that based on the inspection the line between renovation and "intensification" of the work was "not as clear as we'd like" but that staff had not seen reason to stop the ongoing work and did not consider the matter an open enforcement case.

In other Coastal Commission matters --

  • The Commission approved a major but not deeply disputed revision to the City of Grover Beach LCP's Land Use Plan. See
  • Dr. Terry Welsh of the Banning Ranch Conservancy urged the Commission to oppose the ranch owners' pressure to resume mowing work on the area of the Banning Ranch mesa that is proposed for a major housing development. He said past mowing had been harmful to new scrub growth and grasses, vernal pools, and other important habitat. While he agreed some mowing was necessary around oil rigs in the area, he said mowing around the rigs hadn't been done as aggressively in areas not proposed for developments. Commissioner Jana Zimmer complained of "ping-pong presentations" by community and ranch representatives amid the pendency of an enforcement action on the property. Later in a return to the issue, Commissioner Martha McClure asked when the procedure for a permit application "trumped" a concurrent enforcement action, or vice versa, while Lester suggested they could often proceed independently.
  • Under a separate agenda item, Chris Pederson, Deputy Chief Counsel with the Commission, gave a presentation on ex parte contacts. The related agenda packet, at, includes an informal advice letter from the state Attorney General's Office explaining that Commissioners should not engage in ex parte communications "in the context of Commission enforcement proceedings," and a letter from the Commission's own counsel providing a "question tree" on when to decline an ex parte communication. The Latham & Watkins firm has since published a detailed commentary on these and other ex parte issues, and on the Commission's new SB 861 enforcement authority, at
  • The Commission granted one last approval stage for the slightly queasy deal signed at the April Coastal Commission meeting to allow the 368-unit Sand City resort project to go forward in Monterey County. It approved revised detailed findings based on its prior actions in April, and on last-minute communications from environmentalists and project proponents in August. For local Monterey County coverage leading up to the hearing see the Weekly at and the Monterey Herald at Approval of the "eco-resort" for an ecologically fragile dune area upset some environmental advocates in April, especially regarding potential harm to snowy plover on the site. (See For the proposed revised findings, including last-minute revisions, see the large (516 pp.) agenda item file at The Sand City project was a subject of conflict and litigation for years. For some of the prior history see CP&DR's prior coverage from 2008 at see
  • Amy Trainer of the Environmental Action Coalition of West Marin showed underwater video taken by a volunteer of the Drake's Estero oyster farming area, showing pipes, oyster shells, debris, and "marine vomit" sea squirts (see The video appears with her public comment presentation under the fourth agenda item for August 12 at
  • Executive Director Charles Lester said pending second-round applications for LCP assistance grants are posted on the Web site for public review. (See for the Commission's currently closed joint grant solicitation process with the Ocean Protection Council.)
  • Lester's report said UC Press would publish an expanded seventh edition of the California Coastal Access Guide late this month.
  • Commissioner Cox mentioned support for a beach sanitation bill, SB 1395, which as of this writing was still moving toward passage in the Legislature. The tracking page for the bill is at
  • The Commission approved downzoning on 14 properties in Arcata to change industrial designtions to industrial-commercial "in response to changes in the region's economic base from formerly dominant timber and forest products processing uses to lighter manufacturing and fabrication uses."
  • A deputy director's report mentioned pending approval for a transfer of 226 military family housing units from the Navy to a public-private venture at Point Mugu, approval for flood damage repairs at Stinson Beach, and approval to drop fluorescein dye in the ocean for an oil spill simulation exercise involving Chevron and state and federal officials. See
  • The Commission approved its own prior findings on the Trump golf course matter in Rancho Palos Verdes, specifically not resolving the disputed flagpole issue and deferring that to a later hearing. (See prior coverage at
  • The Commission approved a plan to build academic housing for the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics at UC-Santa Barbara.
  • The Commission agreed to amend the Carlsbad LCP density bonus provisions in light of recent years' legal developments, generally by easing housing requirements for developers. It newly allows affordable housing units to count toward density bonus standards even if they are also counted toward developers' compliance with local inclusionary housing requirements -- a practice previously banned as double-dipping. It follows AB 2280 from the 2008 session by relaxing the standard developers must meet in seeking concessions affecting affordable housing and by requiring that "in order for a city to grant a density bonus to a developer who is donating land to that city for very low income housing," the city must first identify funding for the deeply subsidized units that the land gift contemplates. Coastal Commission staff viewed the amendments as merely procedural, hence recommended they be approved.
  • Community activists from Marina Del Rey spoke in public comment to protest a renovation project in the Mariners Village development by Marina Admiralty Partners on the north side of the Marina Del Rey harbor entrance. They said it would cut a thousand trees, including nesting trees for great blue herons and double-crested cormorants, and would add 92 boat slips jutting into Marina Del Rey Channel in a place that would create a safety hazard: at the inside of the "elbow" where entering boats must turn left from the channel to enter the harbor. They said many existing boat slips of suitable size are already vacant at existing marinas and argued that such existing yacht slips could be renovated instead to suit the developers' plans. They said a public promenade at the Mariners Village site would be helpful but argued against the rest of the plan.
  • The Commission approved four house construction projects on Mildred Ave. in Venice although three of the four lots were previously occupied by a community garden, which was evicted in January.
  • The Commission granted approvals with addenda to two adjacent three-story mixed-use projects in the Princeton-by-the-Sea marina town on the San Mateo County coast.
  • The August meeting agenda, annotated with outcomes and linking to all staff reports and addenda, is at
  • The next Commission meeting will be a short two-day session at the Smith River Rancheria of the Tolowa Tribe, near the Oregon state line. Its agenda is already posted at
  • Items to be heard in September, in addition to a budget report, include the usual complement of Southern California luxury home renovations, which could ring differently in the sparser environment of Del Norte County.
  • The September agenda includes consideration of revised findings on the proposal to replace the existing 40-room Beach Plaza Hotel in Long Beach with a larger new condo/hotel/restaurant complex. That could be further grist for the Commission's ongoing debate on preserving "lower-cost" coastal recreation access. Commissioner Martha McClure, who as a Del Norte County Supervisor will play host to the board in September, mentioned during the July debate that "lower cost" had a different meaning "in my part of the world." (See and, for the archived video, Agenda Item 18 for July 9 at (Separately in the August session, Lester responded to an inquiry from Commissioner Cox about a special workshop on low-cost accommodations by saying it could possibly happen late this year or early next year. )
  • A further item that appears on the September agenda only as a postponement request could be worth watching for later: a proposed revision to the Laguna Beach Local Coastal Plan to ease permitting for second residential units.