For more information about environmental justice, go to: www.coastal.ca.gov/env-justice/

If you could like to send in comments to the Coastal Commission, please do so by February 17th:

Email:  environmentaljustice@coastal.ca.gov

Mail: 
California Coastal Commission Environmental Justice Team,
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000,
San Francisco, CA 94118

Fax: (415) 904-5400

California Coastal Commission’s Environmental Justice Policy Calls for Local Governments to Amend Their Local Coastal Plan, Public Works Plans and Long Range Development Plans To Address Environmental Justice Issues

The California Coastal Commission is in the process of finalizing its Environmental Justice Policy. The policy recognizes the need for special protection of coastal access for underserved groups, particularly minority and low-income communities. Last year, the Commission spoke up for environmental justice during the successful opposition to building yet another power plant on Oxnard’s beach.

By establishing an Environmental Justice Policy, the Commission declares its commitment to protecting coastal resources and providing public access and lower-cost recreation opportunities for everyone.  “The Environmental Justice Policy is designed to achieve more meaningful engagement, equitable process, effective communication, and stronger coastal protection benefits that are accessible to everyone.” (Statement credited to Central Coast Alliance for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), July 2018)  This new policy will likely trigger examination of numerous Local Coastal Plans and Public Works Plans and encourage that they be updated. 

Change will not come easily.  The Commission’s November 17, 2018 Environmental Justice Policy Draft states, in its Executive Summary: “The concern remains that, historically, much of the Commission’s work has been largely shaped by coastal residential, commercial and industrial landowners, without sufficient consideration for those whose lives and livelihoods are connected to our coasts through their labor, recreation, and cultural practices but cannot afford the staggering cost of land adjacent to the California shoreline.”  (Statement credited to Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy, July 2018.)

How will environmental justice affect Channel Islands Harbor? Channel Islands Harbor is only one of 12 small boat harbors left along the California coast and no more are likely to be built.  It is a rare and precious public coastal resource. 

Exclusive private residential development is being proposed on public harbor land designated for visitor serving and harbor oriented activities.  The County is demanding major changes to the permitted land uses by pushing a stand-alone amendment to its Public Works Plan, rather than a thoughtful update to the harbor’s Public Works Plan. Even if high-end residential developments may be expedient and lucrative for the County, they are a long step backward for coastal access and environmental justice. 

The most underserved population along the coast is likely Ventura County’s farmworkers, industrial workers, second-language students and immigrants. Yet Ventura County promotes a developers’ high end, fortress-like 400-unit apartment building on the waterfront of Fisherman’s Wharf, the gateway of Channel Islands Harbor. Its footprint would obliterate the harbor’s only waterfront RV spaces, almost half of the Wharf’s public parking and a popular low-cost public theater. The proposed apartment building offers no affordable housing, camping or hostel space, or any additional public park space.  Park space is already severely limited in the harbor and the parking shortage will repel rather than attract local visitors, including school groups.

While the County continues to urge the City of Oxnard and Coastal Commission to approve the building of 400 high-end apartments, the long-planned visitor serving and moderate cost hotel, restaurant and marina project is stalled.  The County’s actions are contrary to their claims that the harbor is in urgent need of revitalization.  There clearly is a significant difference in the County’s sense of urgency and treatment of a visitor- serving project versus the 400-unit apartment project at Fisherman’s Wharf.  The hotel project is consistent with the Coastal Act, the harbor’s Public Works Plan, the City’s Local Coastal Plan and the Environmental Justice Policy. The Fisherman’s Wharf 400 apartment project is not consistent with the Coastal Act, the City’s Local Coastal Plan and environmental justice and is not supported by the community. Amazingly, the County supports the apartment project and allows the hotel project to be delayed.

Ventura County is a clear example that ensuring environmental justice requires not only access to the planning process but timely and complete public information about development projects that might impact underserved groups. This is an area difficult to navigate, as many issues remain obscured within County processes, including an outdated and piecemealed Public Works Plan.

For public participation in harbor development and protection to be effective and relevant, the harbor’s 1986 Public Works Plan needs to be updated for public and Coastal Commission decisions to be knowledgeable about the County’s overall and long-term intentions for the harbor. 

If the environmental justice policy is to be effective and relevant at Channel Islands Harbor, it must start with a requirement for an appropriately updated Public Works Plan. Concepts and good intentions are meaningless without clear implementation plans.  Without a specific plan for the entire harbor, it will be difficult for the public, local underserved groups, and the Commission to make informed decisions that honor environmental justice.

Rene Aiu, Harbor Delegate