Bill could give coastal commission more power

September 8, 2009 8:22:12 PM PDT
Property rights advocates are worried about a bill that could pass the state legislature this week. It would give new enforcement powers to the California Coastal Commission.

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The legislation is authorized by Redwood City Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, but it affects the entire coastline of California and everyone who lives or visits the coast. It's a bill that could significantly increase the power of the coastal commission by increasing its power to levy fines and penalties.

In the town of Pacifica, just south of San Francisco, there's a stairway down to the beach that's been closed all summer and for the better part of the past year. The bottom of the stairway came apart in a storm last winter and the apartment complex responsible for maintaining the beach access, has not had it repaired.

"I think a large part of it has to do with the land owner's willingness to take responsibility and fix [it]. I would say the land owner is in the best position to get this staircase reopened," says Nancy Cave with the coastal commission's enforcement division.

But at the Land's End Apartments, the property manager told ABC7 the holdup is not at his end.

"I was told that we had made an offer to pay for the restoration of the staircase, but that it was denied based on the fact that they want the cliff to just naturally deteriorate. They being, the City of Pacifica," says Jei Horca, the property manager.

"That's news to me," says Pacifica city attorney Cecilia Quick.

Quick says the city and the coastal commission have been after the apartment owner for some time.

"It's very important to the city. We've been working with them for months to get them to the point of applying for a planning permit," says Quick.

The city attorney says part of the problem is the coastal commission doesn't have the power to levy fines or penalties without going through the courts and there is a backlog of 1,300 cases.

Ruskin has authored a bill he says will help clear that log jam.

"What this bill says is that the coastal commission ought to have the ability to assess penalties themselves, just like almost every other kind of similar kind of agency has," says Ruskin.

Ruskin says without the ability to independently issues fines against violators, the coastal commission is hamstrung. Property rights advocates call it a power grab.

"They want to bypass the courts and they want to become the prosecutor, the judge, the jury, and the executioner," says Attorney Ronald Zumbrun.

Zumbrun represents property owners on the coast and says it's true the California Air Resources Board, the California Department of Water Resources and California Department of Fish and Game have the ability on their own to levy fines and penalties, but that's shouldn't extend to the coastal commission.

"The coastal commission has jurisdiction of every property owner and every piece of property on the coast. That's entirely different that these other agencies responsibilities," says Zumbrun.

Ruskin told ABC7 the bill will come up for a vote in the Senate on Wednesday. If it passes it'll be reconciled with the legislation that has already passed the Assembly and could be on the governor's desk by next Monday.

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