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Local Coastal Protection Plan


Local Coastal Protection Plan

By Eric Koenigshofer

The coast is different. That is, the California coastline (including Sonoma County of course) is to be cared for in a special manner as the result of statewide voter action in 1972. The Coastal Initiative, Proposition 20, was approved by California voters on Nov 7th that year. One month from now this turning point in California history will be 43 years in the past, but the reasoning is as important today as it was then. 

Prop 20 had a lifespan of 4 years and was followed by the California Coastal Act of 1976 (1976 Act) which was enacted by the legislature and remains the governing law to this day. The lands within the California Coastal Zone, a specifically mapped area stretching from Oregon to Mexico, are subject to different rules than the rest of California because of the fact there are statewide public interest issues which apply to the Coastal Zone. This is true in Sonoma County as it is for all cities and counties along the coast. 

The 1976 Act called for each city and county along the coast with lands in the Coastal Zone to prepare a Local Coastal Plan (LCP) implementing the 1976 Act. This work was overseen by six Regional Coastal Commissions subordinate to the State Coastal Commission. This arrangement allowed for local government to add local insight to implementation of the statewide regulations. LCP’s then and now are subject to state approval. Current discussions in our county regarding land use policies contained in the Local Coastal Plan are set in the context of this important state law. 

I had the honor of serving as 5th District Supervisor and Sonoma County’s representative to the North Central Regional Coastal Commission (chairing that body) which over saw the development of the LCP’s for Sonoma, Marin and San Francisco counties. During that time I also prompted the Board of Supervisors to amend Supervisorial District boundaries to place the entire Sonoma Coast in the 5th District (the coast north of Jenner was in the 4th District until the 1978 election cycle). This change made it possible to unify political representation of the coast and to minimize the potential for political conflict over participation in the Regional Coastal Commission. This change resulted in a better political environment helping the Board to focus on the development of the LCP. 

Many of the issues were very difficult to resolve and the effort to create a good LCP was hard work for all involved. Sonoma County remained one of the focal points of statewide conflict during this time over public access to the coast…not in the abstract but in the context of access through The Sea Ranch. (This aspect of implementation was eventually addressed in special legislation called the Bane Bill – another story in itself)

Sonoma County Permit & Resource Management Department staff have recently been conducting public meetings and circulating proposed revisions to the format and language of the LCP. These early meetings were well advertised (including in this paper) and many more opportunities to comment and participate will occur. 

This routine cycle of LCP review and update has taken on a degree of heightened scrutiny and debate which are appropriate any time regulating development activity within the coastal zone is on the table. This discussion and debate should be welcomed and engaged so that all parties (including staff) understand what is being done. The risk, of course, is that some undesired change in policy, or a change thought to be insignificant yet having unintended consequences, results in diminished protection of coastal resources. 

Policies contained in the General Plan and county-wide zoning ordinance when applied within the Coastal Zone must also meet the special requirements of the Coastal Act. It is possible that a changed interpretation of either the General Plan or county-wide zoning ordinance could have undesired impacts within the coastal zone. For this reason it is critical to take great care when attempting to merge the two areas (the coastal zone and the remainder of the county). 

Agricultural Zoning

An example of this possibility can be drawn from the current public discourse regarding events in agricultural zoning categories. As this area of land use regulation is being reviewed and potentially redefined, it is important to avoid assuming that what is alright in the rest of the county will be alright in the Coastal Zone. Again, there is an overlay of statewide policy interest which must be taken into account in the Coastal Zone. Any potential expanded or changed use resulting from redefinition should be done in the Coastal Zone only with specific intention of making a change. This should not happen through the “back door” by a change in terminology in non-coastal Sonoma County zoning then applied to the coast.

Another example is the current effort by a Marin business man to convert the Sonoma Coast Villa from its current visitor serving lodging use to a private treatment center. This proposed conversion is of utmost importance since it would replace a visitor serving use with a “non-coastal dependent commercial” use. This type of change is disfavored in the LCP and 1976 Act. If this proposal was outside the Coastal Zone it would be analyzed under completely different policies but since it is in the Coastal zone special statewide policy interests also apply.

In the Sonoma Coast Villa matter it is important to note the substantial public investment made by the California Coastal Conservancy (tax payer money) and the Sonoma County Ag Preservation & Open Space District (taxpayer money) to obtain an easement for access to the Estero Americano. The elimination of lodging directly across Highway 1 from this soon to be open public access is absolutely wrong-headed.

In recent years I have witnessed a trend toward treating the Coastal Zone as just another area of the county. Keeping a sharp focus on the distinctive characteristics of the Coastal Zone and being mindful of the statewide interests involved will benefit the people of Sonoma County and the State of California for many more decades to come. The duty is now on us to keep the landmark efforts leading to coastal protection alive and well in Sonoma County. 

This LCP review process must be transparent and accessible to folks interested in the coast. I expect the process will be underway for months and months. Those interested must spend the time to become informed. And I hope in another 43 years the legacy of coastal protections commencing in 1972 and 1976 are still going strong.