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Coastal Commission issues two big rulings on Central Coast water and growth

Martha Bridegam on
Nov 24, 2014

California American Water won clearance from the Coastal Commission on November 12 to dig its disputed slant well from the Cemex sand mining plant in North Marina on the Monterey Peninsula. The well would allow feasibility studies for a desalination plant fed by sand-filtered water to be drawn from under Monterey Bay. The project had some unbudging opponents but received support from some conservation groups, in part because it called for subsurface rather than open-water intakes.

Proof of legal access to the starting point for the dig was a prerequisite for the approval. Days before the Commission meeting, Cal Am reached a settlement allowing it to dig the well from the Cemex plant. Cal Am had previously sued Cemex to take the use of the land by eminent domain.

The contemplated desalination plant would offer a way out of the bind created by the State Water Board's 2009-issued cease and desist order requiring Cal Am to stop all illegal water diversions from the Carmel River by the end of 2016 -- but the river is still the Monterey Peninsula's primary water supply.

The conditional approval of the permit request overruled a denial by the City of Marina. The Monterey Herald reported the Commission rejected arguments that the well could harm nearby water supplies. Critics included the Marina Coast Water District and the Ag Land Trust, which two years ago were suing each other over a separate desalination issue. Howard "Chip" Wilkins III of the Remy Moose Manley firm, representing the Marina Coast Water District, wrote to the Commission that the matter was not ripe for Commission review, that the Commission lacked jurisdiction over the whole site and that, although the well was described as temporary, it could possibly become a supply source for desalination.

The 1110-page staff report included supporting letters from the mayors of Seaside and Carmel, and the statewide and Monterey Peninsula Chambers of Commerce.

Conservationist supporters included the Sierra Club and Surfrider Foundation, both of which were among parties to a settlement of a prior Public Utilities Commission dispute over the desalination proposal -- formally the Monterey Peninsula Water Supply Project. (For the settlement see http://www.watersupplyproject.org/testwellappeal.)

Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network wrote in support as well -- in part citing Cal Am's interest in using subsurface intakes. Jordan has fought the proposed use of open-water intakes for desalination in Huntington Beach. Open-water intakes have been criticized, including by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), because ocean organisms may be drawn into the intake pipes or pressed against their protective screens.

The Monterey County Weekly reported Cal Am hoped to start construction quickly ahead of Western snowy plover nesting season. The company announced in September it received a $1 million state grant to dig the test well. The Carmel Pine Cone reported the company also had a foundation grant to test the water for human pathogens.

(For further coverage of Monterey water supply tensions see http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-3598.) The annotated November agenda with linked staff reports is at http://coastal.ca.gov/meetings/mtg-mm14-11.html.

UCSB plan approved with sustainability settlement

The Commission unanimously endorsed UC-Santa Barbara's new 15-year Long Range Development Plan, which calls for expanding the 1100-acre campus and adding housing and academic structures for up to 5,000 undergraduate and 1,380 graduate students. The staff report called for 20 modifications, all of which the university accepted.

The Sustainable University Now (SUN) Coalition, formed in response to the plan, reached a settlement in 2011 agreeing to support it. (See pp. 268ff of the staff report.) The Independent reports SUN's principal organizer was Prof. Richard "Dick" Flacks, a legendary 1960s figure, coauthor of the 1962 Port Huron Statement from Students for a Democratic Society. A SUN representative, longtime Santa Barbara environmental attorney Marc Chytilo, endorsed the plan at the hearing. The agreement calls for specific measures on sustainable transportation, habitat stewardship, water supply, energy conservation, community participation in governance, and housing availability, including improvements to the jobs/housing balance.

Commissioner Jana Zimmer questioned the sufficiency of water supply for the plan. The staff report includes assurances by the Goleta Water District -- but often with reference to its 2010 Urban Water Management Plan. (See http://www.goletawater.com/documents/.) Zimmer noted the district was currently not allowing new water connections, and is supplied from the State Water Project and the diminished Lake Cachuma. Jack Ainsworth, Coastal Commission Deputy Director for the region, responded that the Goleta district's groundwater was sufficient, continuing "feedback loops" would recheck adequacy of supply, and new projects would have to offset their effects through conservation.

In other Coastal Commission action:

- The Commission overruled its staff by a 7-4 vote to issue a determination of consistency with the Coastal Act that allowed the Navy's Silver Strand coastal campus facility to go forward in San Diego County. The San Diego Source has details, including that its functions would include assisting SEAL teams. Concerns had included effects on the Nuttall's Lotus, "traffic and visual impacts," and the staff's complaint of insufficient access to enough information to decide if the project would create a need for a seawall or otherwise affect coastal dunes.

- The Commission approved amendments to a Coastal Development Permit for beach management by the City of Santa Cruz. The Pacific Legal Foundation, which livetweeted all three days of the November meeting with exceptional diligence, reported the vote was 9-2 and came only after Commissioner Mary Shallenberger, supported by at least two others, questioned whether provisions for a nighttime curfew served the goal of preserving beach access.

- The Commission heard many single-family home disputes including a number of teardown-rebuild applications for single-family houses in suburban Southern California neighborhoods. It heard public comments on usual-suspect issues including Venice zoning and the Banning Ranch. It granted extensions of time on consideration of Local Coastal Program (LCP) revisions for Chula Vista, Imperial Beach, and Malibu. It approved an amendment to the Santa Barbara LCP to create buffers between agricultural uses and "new non-agricultural development and uses."

- The Commission approved 12 grants totaling $1 million for work on LCPs.

- It rejected an appeal of a decision to allow emergency call boxes on Highways 1 and 128 in Mendocino County.

- The meeting was the Commission's first in San Mateo County. Commissioner Groom, the local host, pronounced herself "ecstatic" but the Half Moon Bay Review noted there were few local items on the agenda. A Commissioners' field trip included the site of the "Big Wave" project proposal, subject of a recent redesign mainly affecting a part of the project designed as affordable housing for 50 adults with developmental disabilities and 20 staff. Per a recent county Planning agenda, there would also be 108 business condominium units. The Coastal Commission rejected an earlier design for the project two years ago. (The project's own site is at http://bigwaveproject.org/. The Midcoast Community Council's page with timeline and links for the project is at http://www.midcoastcommunitycouncil.org/big-wave-project/.)

- As part of this month's anti-fracking protest, the Center for Biological Diversity announced it was delivering a petition with 30,000 signatures.

- The December meeting, in Monterey, will include a long-anticipated workshop on lower-cost visitor-serving accommodations -- that is, on preservation of the cheap California seaside vacation as public resource. See http://coastal.ca.gov/mtgcurr.html.

- In Coastal Commission action apart from the recent meeting, the Malibu Times reported Coastal Commission Enforcement Officer Pat Veesart was invoking the Coastal Commission's recently augmented enforcement authority under SB 861, to warn the owners of the Paradise Cove beach access area to stop charging visitors for public access. As the Los Angeles Times reported previously, complaints about parking charges have included some from members of the Black Surfers Collective who said they had not been allowed to carry their surfboards across the sand.

- Separately the Monterey Herald reported that legal troubles continue for the Sand City "eco-resort" plan in Sand City (see prior coverage of the Coastal Commission settlement at http://www.cp-dr.com/articles/node-3474), while a separate hotel and time-share proposal for the Sand City dunes, by developer King Ventures, goes before the Coastal Commission in December on appeal by the Ventana Chapter of the Sierra Club.

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