On Thursday, the State Assembly voted to change the terms of California Coastal Commission (CCC) appointees to fixed, two-year terms to satisfy an appellate court ruling that deemed the current structure unconstitutional.
The 48-24 vote sent the measure to the senate, which is considering a bill to make the terms fixed, four-year terms. The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, (D-Santa Barbara) said she expects the bill to go before the senate within the next two weeks. She also said she was happy with the bill’s progress so far.
“Obviously, I’m very pleased with the decision to support a change to confirm the commission’s constitutionality. And I’m pleased to get a lot of bipartisan support,” Jackson said. “The legislature clearly agrees the CCC is important and should operate without any interruptions.”
Gov. Gray Davis supports the amended CCC bylaws plan, regardless of the length of the terms, said gubernatorial spokesman Byron Tucker.
“The length of the terms isn’t relevant, as long as the terms are fixed,” Tucker said.
Voters elected to create the CCC in 1972. It regulates development along the state’s 1,100-mile coastline. The 3rd District Court of Appeal ruled last month that, because legislative leaders appoint a majority of the 12 coastal commissioners and can remove them at will, the commission violates the constitution’s separation of powers clause. The appeals court ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the Marine Forests Society, a nonprofit group that sued the commission after it was ordered to stop building an artificial reef off Newport Beach.
Assemblyman John Campbell, (R-Irvine), opposed the bill, saying legislature should further restructure the commission, which he called an “arrogant, oppressive and abusive agency.”
Campbell said although he is not opposed to the idea of the CCC, he feels the organization has moved “way past its charter, beyond what voters had intended [it to do],” he said. “For example, when you remodel your patio cover and CCC says you can’t do this… They’re enormously powerful.”
Campbell said he does not believe the decision will pass legal muster, and that it wouldn’t resolve his problems with the CCC even if it did. Instead, he would like two see two main aspects of the CCC changed.
“First, I believe all the Coastal Commissioners should be government appointees,” he said. “Second, the CCC shouldn’t be looking so closely into whenever anybody wants to change their patio cover. They should be protecting the coast, not acting as a city council for the whole state.”
Coastal Commissioner and Santa Barbara resident Pedro Nava said his reaction to the bill’s passing is “one of satisfaction and gratitude to the legislature for reacting so quickly to this threat to California’s coastline.”
Regarding possible adoption of two-year or four-year terms for CCC appointees, Nava said, “I think the number of years [in a given term] is less important than having fixed terms,” he said, citing the controversial “at will” clause of the CCC bylaws as the truly troubling part.
Nava also said he thinks the ruling will only empower the CCC.
“It’s ironic that a lawsuit by a coastal act violator would make the CCC stronger,” he said, referring to the plaintiff Rodolphe Streichenberger’s CCC-condemned construction of an artificial reef from discarded concrete, tires and pipes off the coast of Newport Beach in 1999. “I think the suit was a Trojan horse for enemies of coastal protection to launch an attack against the CCC.”
Campbell maintains that the power of the CCC should be kept in check.
“They should not be getting involved with so much minutia,” he said.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.