Stop California Coastal Commission Bill AB 976

I am attaching an article that ran on April 1st in the San Diego Union-Tribune. If you’re as alarmed as I am after reading this, please contact your state Assemblymember and voice your opposition to Assembly Bill 976 which would give the Coastal Commission the authority to directly issue fines without having to go to court first. John Gamper of the California Farm Bureau has said AB 976 will give the commission the “right to be the cop on the beat, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.”

Help us raise awareness of this legislation and stop the Coastal Commission’s power grab.

– Coastal Land Coalition

San Diego Union-Tribune attachment is as follows:


Assembly committee advances measure that would allow panel to deal out fines

By Michael Gardner12:01 am.April 3, 2013 Updated 4:40 pm.April 2, 2013

Legislation to give the already powerful California Coastal Commission the authority to directly fine violators rather than having to take them to court cleared the Assembly Natural Resources Committee on Monday.

“Sometimes a fine is the only meaningful consequence for breaking the law,” said Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, a San Diego Democrat carrying the measure.

Her Assembly Bill 976 has drawn sharp rebukes from business interests, many of whom already regard the Coastal Commission as too arbitrary when it comes to issuing permits for development along California’s 1,100 miles of coast.

The legislation “creates a bounty-hunter mentality among Coastal Commission staff (and) would strip alleged violators of due process afforded by the courts,” states a letter signed by various associations representing the housing, oil, aquaculture and agricultural industries.

The panel passed the measure 6-3, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed. It now goes to the Judiciary Committee.

In making her case, Atkins cites two examples of alleged violations in San Diego County that have dragged on at the administrative level.
One involves a single-family development in Carlsbad that was granted a coastal development permit on the condition that a public access trail be constructed to Batiquitos Lagoon. But the trail has not been created.

Another involves a permit to turn apartments into condominiums in Oceanside. The developers were to build a boardwalk around the property, but never did.

The Coastal Commission is in charge of approving development permits along the coast and has the authority to impose numerous conditions for approval. However, the commission must go to court to collect any fines, which are set at between $500 and $30,000. Those who are found to have “knowingly or intentionally” violated their permit conditions are subject to penalties up to $15,000 daily until the problem is fixed.

The legislation would limit the fine to 75 percent of those caps. The commission could file a lien if the fine is not paid. Fines also would have to be approved by the commission in a public hearing. Developers would retain the right to a court appeal.

Lisa Haage, the commission’s chief of enforcement, testified that she sees fine possibilities more as a deterrent. As it stands now, violators “may well escape without paying a penny.” That punishes those who voluntarily cooperate, she said.

The Coastal Commission says fines are rarely pursued because of the time and cost associated with going to court. The cases are filed by the separate Department of Justice under the attorney general’s jurisdiction.

The attorney general has followed through on just four such cases since 2003. Of those, three have been settled, bringing in $425,000, according to state statistics. But two of the cases cost the attorney general’s office more than $100,000 each to pursue.

Mark Smith, representing a coalition of businesses opposed to the bill, said the small number of court cases can be attributed to the attorney general’s office reluctance to pursue all the cases. He called the attorney general an important “check” on the overzealous pursuit of fines.
Smith said he would provide lawmakers later with examples of the commission moving to fine property owners for relatively minor issues.

“The Coastal Commission has a less-than-good reputation with those people with issues before it. “¦ It’s known, rightly or wrongly, as a very aggressive agency,” Smith said.

The California Farm Bureau has often had conflicts with the commission. John Gamper, its representative, said the measure will give the commission the “right to be the cop on the beat, prosecutor, judge, jury and executioner.”

The measure is supported by a range of environmental groups, such as Heal The Bay, Surfrider Foundation and the Sierra Club.

Some enforcement agencies already have the authority to fine, including the state Air Resources Board, State Water Resources Control Board, Energy Commission, Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Cal Fire.