Coastal contortion

Ducheny takes on errant commission staff

March 2, 2008

The arrogance of the California Coastal Commission staff knows no bounds. So, hats off to Sen. Denise Ducheny, D-San Diego, for countering the staff’s audacious interpretations of state law.

After six months of effort, Ducheny has forced Coastal Commission Executive Director Peter Douglas to halt his staff’s abuse of a law that Ducheny authored four years ago.

When passed in 1976, the California Coastal Act required the commission to protect, encourage and, where feasible, provide affordable housing. Five years later, responding to public anger about the commission’s use of that authority, legislators assigned the regulation of affordable housing to local governments and their own coastal plans.

In 2003 the Legislature passed Coastal Act amendments authored by Ducheny to foster residential development, particularly affordable housing. The changes required local governments and the Coastal Commission to support development by approving the highest density their local zoning and state development laws allowed, unless substantial evidence showed unavoidable harm to coastal resources.

Omitting that exception in its report, the Coastal Commission staff advised that the commissioners oppose the bill unless amended to restore the commission’s “ability to require affordable housing as a component of large development projects” in the coastal zone. That didn’t happen. Yet the staff gleaned in the legislation bogus and self-serving authority to regulate affordable housing.

In September, Ducheny wrote Commission Chairman Pat Kruer to set the record straight. Writing to Douglas in January, Ducheny noted the staff’s continued distortion of her legislation. In February, Douglas finally acknowledged that the commission “has no authority to require local coastal governments or permit applicants to provide or maintain affordable housing.” He ordered the correction of current staff reports claiming otherwise.

The staff’s craftiness cost past applicants their projects, and the commission credibility. At some point commissioners must impose consequences, serious consequences, on such arrogant conduct.

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