“Environmental justice is at the heart of what the commission has strived to do for 45 years, but until we can extend that mission to marginalized communities throughout California, we will never achieve the Coastal Act’s vision,” said commission Chair Dayna Bochco. “This new policy will help us keep that promise.”
Beaches and harbors are for all to enjoy, not just for the lucky few who can live there. But there are many challenges to coastal activism and environmental justice. The Harbor & Beach Community Alliance was one of only three organizations invited to speak on the challenges of volunteer activism and environmental justice by the California Coastal Commission at their May Meeting in Oxnard. The following is a summary and excerpts from those speeches.
The common challenge (to volunteer activism) is the goliath-like adversaries: a developer, a corporation or a government entity. They have access to what seems like boundless amounts of money, powerful influence, and an arsenal of experts, legal counsel, and staff. For many activists, it sometimes feels like fending off the white walkers from the Game of Thrones or the Empire from Star Wars.
New and inexperienced activists are often surprised by what they encounter and what they must learn to do.
The 5 Challenges:
- First, public participation through petitions, letter writing and speech making alone is not effective. It is important to have access to coastal environmental expertise and legal guidance. This requires money.
For most activists, this means learning how to fundraise to pay for these fees. Other expenses may need to be individually funded. This is not easy to do. Most activists find this overwhelming.
- Second, Local Coastal Plans (LCPs) and Public Works Plans (PWPs) need to be updated on a timely basis but are not legally required to do so. For example, over the last 2 decades, there have been 4 different organizations of activists that have been involved at Channel Islands Harbor. Each has asked that the County to update the harbor’s Public Works Plan . There were promises it was in the works, one even made to the Coastal Commission, but nothing to date.
It is unfair for the public to be subjected to an on-going barrage of piece-by-piece amendments. It wears the public down. It prevents the public, and even the Coastal Commission, from understanding the intent of those changes.
- Third, there is what can only be described as “sovereign like powers” that a local government can exercise at its whim. These can be used to discourage and dissipate public efforts.
For example, after facing fierce opposition that delayed the proposed project [Fisherman’s Wharf’s apartment complex], the County extended the developer’s Exclusive Right to Negotiate (ERN) for the harbor land at issue and they did so at no cost to the developer. This “sovereign like” action prevents proposals from other developers for another 1-2 years. It dashed hope for project modifications that would better serve public access and Environmental Justice concerns. It was a kick in the gut and the community had to bolster their resolve to stay on the issue.
- Fourth, project information is essential to understand what the project is and its impact on public access. But not all critical information is readily available to the average person.
The developer and County can choose to provide partial information or withhold key information. Even making formal Public Requests for Information does not always get the information. There can be claims the information does not exist. There can be claims the information is legally exempt. Sometimes there is no response. To get complete information, the only recourse then is legal action the public cannot afford to do.
- Fifth, developers can use promotional renderings of projects that do not accurately show what the project really is. They use these illustrations to “sell” the project to the public. The public may have access to project specifications (like height, length, features, amenities, etc.) But it is still impossible for the average person to visualize the project and so they rely on the developer’s illustrations. This is not right and not fair.
Good decisions on development projects can only be made when there is a true understanding of the project. Developers should be required to provide an accurate model that shows what the project really is. Developers should show how their project furthers environmental justice and how it is designed to promote coastal access for all. Developers should be proactive in this endeavor and not always wait until the public raises the issue.
- There should be consequences to misrepresenting a development project.
- There should be consequences to piecemeal planning.
- There should be consequences to withholding information, providing partial or inaccurate information that misleads the public.
This is because decisions on every new coastal development will be decisions that will stand on the coast for more than a hundred years and affect public access for generations.
Coastal Commission Meeting Thursday May 9, 2019, 9:00am Oxnard
HBCA was invited by the Coastal Commission to make a presentation during the public meeting on Environmental Justice in Oxnard on Thursday May 8th, 2019. This invitation followed HBCA’s participation during prior Coastal Commission Presentations on Environmental Justice in January and February f5-3-2019-exhibit_HBCA_Feb_15_2019.
The Social Justice Presentation begins at 1:10:50 (HBCA at 1:23:20)
Note: The Harbor Director, Mark Sandoval, was so angered by HBCA speeches that he spoke the next day, May 9th, during the Public Comment section to attack and criticize HBCA. You can view his speech at the Coastal Commission archive website on May 9th at approximately 12 minutes into the meeting. His speech follows Robert Slavin former Mayor of Westlake Village, who told the Commission, he had never seen a public official act like a lobbyist for a private developer. He repeated his comments of April 22nd at the Oxnard’s Community Workshop on Fisherman’s Wharf project.