MORAIN: California Coastal Commission struggles to stay on course

  • 12/31/2009: B1:

    PC: The Sonoma County Coast looking towards Goat Rock from Highway 1, Thursday May 14, 2009. From Jenner north past Fort Ross, a plan to harness wave power is in the works as an alternative to producing electricity. Another site would be just south of Gualala. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat)2009

<WC1>Steve Blank made enough money from Silicon Valley startups that he could retire at 45, buy 660 acres south of Half Moon Bay and build a mansion above one of California's most pristine beaches.

He's also an environmentalist who until recently was one of 12 California Coastal Commission members and is struck by what hasn't happened to California's coast: It hasn't become the Jersey Shore.<WC> <WC1><WC>

<WC1>That's because of what he proudly calls the uncompromising and unreasonable stands taken by the Coastal Commission.<WC> <WC1><WC>

<WC1>Developers and property rights advocates denounce the commission, believing landowners should be able to do as they please with their precious slices of California. But over the decades, the commission has resisted becoming a captive of the businesses it regulates and the lobbyists who represent them.

Blank had commission stories to tell in 2007 when Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him. He had wanted to build his mansion on a bluff directly above A? Nuevo State Park, where elephant seals sun themselves, feast, mate and molt.<WC> <WC1>He found himself playing a game of <WC>"<WC1>regulatory Twister<WC>"<WC1> with the commission, winning approval only after spending an additional $3 million and agreeing to build his spread well back from the bluff, out of sight from the highway below.

Rather than becoming embittered, Blank became a believer. California, he said, has been conducting a grand experiment. By imposing strict coastal zoning and sticking to it, California has <WC>"<WC1>preserved a huge economic engine.<WC>"<WC1> However, Blank issued a warning two weeks ago when he resigned from the commission, first in a speech to the California League of Conservation Voters and later to me.

<WC>"<WC1>You don't want lobbyists on the commission. You don't want commissioners who hate the commission. You don't want environmentalists who check out,<WC>"<WC1> he said <WC>—<WC1> all of which he worries is happening.

<WC>"<WC1>If you make a mistake on an insurance regulation or an air quality regulation, you can change that. Once you bulldoze a wetland, it's gone,<WC>"<WC1> Blank said.

Clearly, the commission is in a transition. Peter Douglas, who wrote the 1972 initiative that created the commission and was its director for 25 years, died last year. Eight members of the 12-seat commission have been appointed since 2011.

Gov. Jerry Brown, not a fan of the commission, has a vacancy to fill, as do Assembly Speaker John A. P?ez and the Senate Rules Committee chaired by Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.

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