The Coastal Commission met in Smith River this September, just three miles from the Oregon state line. The reduced two-day agenda and remote setting gave the meeting aspects of a retreat. Members used the slack in the session to raise big-picture and procedural questions – and at the end of the second day, a group of Commissioners staged a mini-rebellion seeking greater power to choose agenda items.

The occasion for the agenda rebellion was a board-requested staff presentation on how the staff sets agendas. Wendy Mitchell and Jana Zimmer, with Martha McClure and others chiming in, said they wanted more power to get staff responses to questions – even complex questions requiring research – and to request a discussion or workshop on a general issue. Commissioners noted followup is difficult because Commissioners meet formally just once a month and are restrained by Bagley-Keene ethics rules from meeting informally more than two at a time. Because the discussion itself was on an informational item, no formal vote on the matter could be taken.

Low-cost visitor uses

In other discussion, staff confirmed plans to the Commission for two major big-picture discussions by the end of the year: a hearing in November or December on the long-awaited overarching guidance to help towns plan for sea-level rise, and a December workshop on lower-cost visitor-serving uses.
Commission chair Steve Kinsey appointed Commissioners Martha McClure and Gregory Cox, who have expressed repeated interest in protecting cheap coastal vacations, to work with Executive Director Charles Lester on planning the workshop.

McClure repeated her concern that cheap beachside motels should be renovated, potentially with developers' mitigation money, and kept affordable to middle-class families who might not want to stay in the hostels or campgrounds that have been typical mitigation projects. She said, "This is near and dear to my heart because right now in Crescent City, for instance, there is a motel that the city has had to close down because of the conditions and if that motel were to be rehabilitated, there isn't anyone probably in California that would be willing to invest and pay $30,000 a room as mitigation" for low-cost visitor-serving accommodations.

North state issues

North Coast officials and community members were eager to use their one chance this year at the Commissioners' undivided attention. Among issues raised:

- An extensive briefing on coastal development and tribal lands included presentations by District Manager Bob Merrill and Tolowa Tribe representatives Briannon Fraley and Loren Bommelyn. Part of Merrill's presentation explained the Commission's role in conducting reviews for consistency with state coastal zone management policy under the federal Coastal Zone Management Act where land use plans involve tribal lands regulated by federal agencies. The briefing starts around the one-hour, 42-minute mark of the September 10 recording at[]=CCC.

- In a presentation on Humboldt Bay Sea Level Rise Adaptation Planning, by staff analyst Melissa Kramer and consultant Aldaron Laird of Trinity Associates, Laird said major portions of northern shoreline properties depended on dikes, some of which were actively eroding. He said some became overwhelmed when annual "king tides" temporarily added a foot to local sea level, simulating the expected effects of sea level rise. Laird called for cooperation between owners of diked waterfront properties and managers of utility conduits – and highways – that the dikes protect. He said the Humboldt Bay Power Plant might have to be moved back – "it's likely to become an island". (The Eureka Times-Standard gave a detailed preview of his presentation at That led Commission Chair Steve Kinsey to wonder how local governments can "retreat from the maintenance of infrastructure [on eroding shorelines] without becoming responsible for the takings of the private properties that would be affected by that." (The sea level presentation starts around 2:52:00.)

- Several speakers called for more enforcement staff in the northern coastal region.

- The Commission approved a settlement for environmental remediation on a former mill property that had been meant to receive debris from the 2011 tsunami only temporarily, but had ended up storing it long-term.

Venice Beach comes to Smith River

The Commission couldn't escape Southern California beach town disputes even at the northern state line. Anti-gentrification activists from Venice Beach and Laguna Canyon followed them to Smith River.

A group of Venice neighbors, some in "Saving Venice" T-shirts, criticized the cumulative impacts of profit-seeking disruption in their neighborhood: short-term Internet-mediated rentals, and projects that replace older, cheaper houses with denser new buildings. They especially contested the 664 Sunset LLC project in Venice, which would demolish two older single-family homes – acknowledged to be affordable housing – and replace them with three new ones. The owners' spokesman, Andy Liu, said "small-lot subdivision projects" like 664 Sunset promoted affordability by placing small new houses on the market. He also said they'd anticipated neighborhood objections by providing covered on-site parking for all units. Speakers who disagreed included appellant Rene Kraus, who public commenter Lydia Ponce said was still living on the property. The Commission found no substantial issue, clearing the way for the project.

Robin Rudisill, chair of the Venice Land Use and Planning Committee (see told the board her committee had been working with other local groups toward a more standardized project review process, currently known as the VNC Approved Expedite Project.

Laguna Beach activist Sharon Fudge, who with her husband has been fighting a makeover project at the Laguna Ranch resort near their house, showed photos of gutted buildings that she said the resort's owner was presenting as a "minor health and safety upgrade." She said, "those buildings are see-through – they've been taken down to the sticks." This summer Commission staff had reluctantly allowed some work, characterized as renovations, to go forward, but the Commission prohibited outright rebuilding pending an enforcement action. Fudge insisted the buildings were being reconfigured, from small apartments that had been rented for low-cost family beach vacations into standard hotel rooms – "They are making this into a luxury resort." And she said the current owners had "stripped" a eucalyptus grove, originally set aside as a camp site for local Girl Scouts, making it into an events center for crowds so large they create traffic problems.

Fudge asked the Commission to reconsider a proposed Laguna Beach LCP amendment that she said would discourage second units, saying it would make affordable stays near the beach more expensive. The Commission extended a time limit to act on that matter.

Other Items

- A discussion from the August meeting continued about whether or when Commissioners became responsible for avoiding ex parte contacts with landowners who were subjects of enforcement actions. Chiming in, Zimmer asked the staff to notify Commissioners when enforcement actions began, rather than leave it to them to find out.

- Steve Ray of the Banning Ranch Conservancy representative warned that a suit against the Commission by a little-known plaintiff, "Horizontal Development LLC," was a part of the Banning Ranch development effort – an attempt, he said, to do the decontamination and grading work for new development under an old permit issued in 1973.

The Coastal Commission's September agenda is at, as annotated with outcomes and including links to staff materials.

In actions separate from the Commission meeting:

- The Commission staff reached a settlement expected to allowing U2 guitarist David Evans, known as the Edge, to build a five-house compound in the Santa Monica Mountains. For LA Times coverage see

- The Monterey County Weekly reported further hitches for the Monterey Bay Shores Resort plan in Sand City, despite the apparent settlement reached with the Commission last spring. It said a lender had filed court papers seeking to foreclose on the project site for an allegedly defaulted debt and that Coastal Commission staff were not happy with project proponent Ed Ghandour's progress toward meeting conditions of the settlement. See for details.

- The Del Mar Times reported Solana Beach had begun a study to decide what compensation is due to the public from property owners who block coastal access with seawalls. See for details.

- News reports and editorials gave cheerful and ample coverage to the San Mateo Superior Court decision favoring coastal access at privately owned Martins Beach. The court opinion issued September 24 is captioned as a tentative statement of decision but it was widely interpreted as an order requiring software billionaire Vinod Khosla to open the beach to public use. See San Francisco Chronicle coverage at and Mercury News coverage at In a further action supporting coastal access, Governor Jerry Brown on September 30 signed SB 968, the bill instructing the State Lands Commission to begin negotiations for purchase of an access route to the beach that, after a year, could be followed by an eminent domain action. See