News Analysis

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Coastal Commission declared unconstitutional

A Court of Appeals decision finds against the commission in a

landmark decision, which will probably send the case to the California Supreme Court.

By Arnold G. York/Publisher

The California Court of Appeals handed down a New Year’s bombshell. In a unanimous 3-0 decision on Monday, it ruled that the California Coastal Commission is unconstitutional because it violates the separation of powers doctrine in the state constitution.

The commission has 12 voting members, four appointed by the governor, four by the Speaker of the Assembly and four by the Senate leader. All appointees serve at the pleasure of their appointing authority, which means they can be removed instantly, at anytime, for any reason.

The court decided this was constitutionally improper, because it kept the coastal commissioners effectively under the thumb of those who appointed them.

The appeals court upheld the trial court decision by Judge Kobayashi in the Sacramento Superior Court in the case of the Marine Forests Society vs. the California Coastal Commission. The ruling also lifted the stay, which means for now, until the Legislature or another court acts, the Coastal Commission may not issue any coastal permits.

However, no one seems sure of this because it’s uncharted territory. It’s possible the Court of Appeals may decide to issue another stay to allow time for the case to be appealed to the California Supreme Court and, in the meantime, to allow the Coastal Commission to continue to issue permits.

A new legislative session begins in 2003 and there will probably be some corrective legislation put into the hopper to cure the constitutional problems raised in the Court of Appeals’ decision.

However, several Sacramento officials have indicated to The Malibu Times that it may take a 2-3 vote for corrective legislation to become effective immediately, and that may be difficult for the friends of the commission.

Initially, when Proposition 20 passed in the 1970s and the Legislature passed the Coastal Act, there was broad-based public support for the act. In the intervening years, many counties, cities and individuals have had negative experiences with the Coastal Commission and are considerably more skeptical.

When the Coastal Commission comes to the Legislature asking for more power, it’s likely it might find itself in a battle, with the Legislature building more checks and balances into the system to offset some of the perceived abuses of power.

The contrary is also possible-that is the Coastal Commission and its supporters may have the muscle to get the Legislature to strengthen its hand and it might emerge with even more independence, and with less legislative oversight than before.

In the interim, the lawsuits by the City of Malibu and various individuals over the Malibu Local Coastal Plan are still going ahead as scheduled. The first hearing will take place in the Superior Court in West Los Angeles on Wednesday, Jan. 8 at 8:30 a.m., with Judge Goodman presiding.