Supervisor Carole Groom is the first San Mateo County representative to ever serve on the 12-member California Coastal Commission. She was appointed last year by the speaker of the California Assembly. And what a plumb appointment it is! But also one with serious responsibilities and time commitments.
Groom represents not only San Mateo County but also Santa Cruz and Monterey counties. She assumed the position formerly held by a Santa Cruz councilman who was elected to the state Assembly. The commission meets every month for three days — Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the second week of each month. Meetings have been held at Pismo Beach, Newport Beach, San Diego, Yreka, Mill Valley, Santa Cruz and San Francisco every December. Groom hopes to schedule one of the upcoming meetings in Half Moon Bay, which will be another first.
Agendas are packed; hearings often last seven to eight hours and usually several hundred community members show up to share their views. One of the hot issues is what is going to happen to the nuclear power plant at Avila, near Pismo Beach. Ever since the horrific earthquake accident in Japan, even supporters of nuclear power are wary
Since the commission is responsible for the safekeeping of the California coast, climate change triggers including sea level rise, erosion and the impacts of desalinization (making ocean water usable for other purposes) are a major focus.
There is a small desalinization plant in Carlsbad (Southern California) but there are plans for a bigger operation at Huntington Beach. Residents are objecting to the impacts on beach access and possible disruption of ocean flows. The commission has put expansion plans on hold until an investigation is completed of new technology — such as a better way to manage the intake of water which would not kill marine life. Groom believes desalinization is a tool we need to use but it has to be environmentally sound.
Closer to home, there are concerns about rising tides on the already vulnerable apartment building in Pacifica which has been teetering on the edge since last year’s heavy rains. Plus, an environmental group has appealed the decision of the city of Half Moon Bay to approve the development of four new homes on Highway 1. A development in Martin’s Beach, south of Half Moon Bay, is before the courts because the owner has blocked access to the beach. In San Mateo County, land use decisions are first made by local coastal plan members but they can be appealed to the commission. Another commission concern is maintaining low-cost visitor access. Increased parking fees at some of the state beaches may keep the less affluent away. Another problem is the erosion of state beaches. Solano Beach in Southern California is vulnerable and many beaches may become smaller in size as a result of rising seas.
The California Coastal Commission came to life in 1972 when voters approved Proposition 20. The initiative was prompted by Sea Ranch, a planned community on the Sonoma County coast. Initially, Sea Ranch was a limited development which would preserve the area’s natural beauty. But when it grew to 10 miles of the coastline reserved for private use, opponents put Proposition 20 on the ballot. The goal was to protect public access to California’s beaches. Proposition 20 gave the Coastal Commission permit authority for four years. People felt the commission’s work was too important to end there so the Legislature passed the California Coastal Act in 1976, which extended the Coastal Commission’s authority indefinitely. According to its website,” the agency is tasked with protection of coastal resources, including shoreline public access and recreation, lower cost visitor accommodations, terrestrial and marine habitat protection, visual resources, landform alteration, agricultural lands, commercial fisheries, industrial uses, water quality, offshore oil and gas development, transportation, development design, power plants, ports and public works. “
Most of the violations before the commission concern blockage to public access. Next there are violations for unpermitted developments in sensitive habitats. More than a quarter of all of the state’s violations come from the Santa Monica mountains and Malibu, where public access to the beaches has been an ongoing battle.
Despite the big chunk of time she now devotes to commission work, Groom considers it an honor to hold the post. She is up for re-election to the Board of Supervisors in November and is in her second term. So it looks as if she will remain a strong voice for protecting the San Mateo County coast for some time to come.
Sue Lempert is the former mayor of San Mateo. Her column runs every Monday. She can be reached at email@example.com.