Coastal Commission bill on life support in State Assembly

In the game of legislative ping-pong, no bill is safe. 

That much was proven this week when a controversial bill that would have granted the California Coastal Commission (CCC) the power to fine Coastal Act violators failed on a 32-30 vote in the State Assembly, the same legislative body that first passed the bill, setting it up for a Senate vote last week. 

Sacramento insiders say the bill is likely dead, though it could be read in the Assembly again by Thursday. But given the number of assembly members who did not record votes this Monday and Tuesday, the floor leader would have to ramp up efforts to corral at least 11 more votes to get it through the Assembly, according to sources at the State Capitol. 

After narrowly passing the State Senate in a 21-17 vote last Friday, the bill was sent back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote on bill amendments made by the Senate. Needing a 41-vote majority to pass the 80-member Assembly on Monday, AB 976 garnered 35 votes for and 32 against. A reconsideration vote on Tuesday garnered even lower results, with 32 for and 30 against. 

The bill would grant the CCC the ability to levy direct fines against landowners along California’s expansive coastline, as opposed to current procedure in which the Coastal Commission must first issue a “cease-and-desist” order when a violation is identified. If the order goes ignored, the Commission has the option of pursuing enforcement against the alleged violator through county superior courts. 

The bill’s apparent failure earlier is a surprising turn in its trajectory since first being introduced in February. 

Many expected the bill to pass and head to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. It was unclear whether Brown would support legislation empowering a commission insiders believe Brown is distrustful of. 

Critics of the commission charged that the bill would put an enormous amount of power into the hands of the agency, which has a reputation for being very aggressive and inconsiderate of individual property rights. 

The commission, however, argues the current enforcement process is slow and cumbersome, as it faces a backlog of nearly 2,000 cases being investigated. 

Support of the bill has been largely split along party lines, with Republican Sen. Jim Nielsen arguing AB 976 would give the CCC “unconscionable powers,” the Los Angeles Times reported. He and Senate Republicans were joined by five Democrats in voting against the bill last week. 

Democratic Sen. Kevin De Leon defended the bill’s intent, saying it would give the CCC the ability to do its job in defending California’s Coastal Act of 1976.“It’s time that we give them what every other department has,” De Leon reportedly said. “The ability to do their job.” 

Malibu Councilman John Sibert said if the bill dies for good, the Coastal Commission would still retain plenty of authority over California’s 1,200-mile coastline. He would prefer to see more coordination between coastal cities and the state in cases where the CCC gears up to crackdown on alleged violators. 

“The Coastal Commission does have an awful lot of power as it stands,” Sibert said. “I would like to see us better find ways cities with [Local Coastal Programs] certified by the Coastal Commission to better enforce the Coastal Act. That’s the best way to do it, is by getting cities to cooperate with the Coastal Commission.” 

Sibert cited Malibu’s rocky history with the CCC, which many believe has improved steadily since Executive Director Charles Lester took over the CCC. 

The Malibu Times is the first newspaper in Malibu, serving the community since 1946.

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