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News Every Day |

California coastal agency erodes climate and housing goals

California coastal agency erodes climate and housing goals

In the midst of a burgeoning environmental movement, California voters in 1972 approved Proposition 20, which created the California Coastal Commission and gave it nearly dictatorial powers over development decisions along the state’s coastline.

Like with most state bureaucracies, Californians have come to accept it as part of the reality of life. Lawmakers have done little, even when the agency abuses its power by, say, fighting a disabled resident’s effort to build a wheelchair-friendly home or quashing a proposed desalination plant over concerns about its impact on plankton. The commission exerts power to reject projects as far as five miles inland.

Over the years, most of the complaints about the commission have come from conservatives and libertarians given the impact of its decisions on private property rights. In 2001, a judge found the agency to be unconstitutional because it wielded executive, legislative and judicial powers. The Legislature reacted quickly by changing the terms of commission appointments – and it has continued along its merry way ever since.

But now the commission is finally getting much-deserved scrutiny from other ideological factions. In recent years, YIMBYs (Yes In My Back Yarders) have battled against NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yarders) over development issues. The former have noted that the latter have used environmental laws to stop housing construction and transit projects that advance the state’s climate goals.

A new report, “A Better Coastal Commission,” from an urbanist group called Circulate San Diego has launched a direct critique of the Coastal Commission. And while we don’t fully agree with the group’s pro-transit and high-density land-use goals, we believe it makes crucial points about how no-growth rules drive up housing prices by limiting supply. They also force people into longer commutes, thus undermining the state’s climate and transportation goals.

The report rehashes widely known statistics about housing affordability in the coastal zone – and notes that commission regulations significantly increased housing costs in coastal communities. Soaring coastal housing costs, it adds, has a ripple effect on prices even in non-coastal areas. That situation also has led to racial segregation, it explains, with home prices and rents in coastal areas becoming unattainable for large segments of the population.

The researchers provide “numerous examples where the Coastal Commission has resisted, opposed, and delayed the construction of deed-restricted affordable homes. … Similarly, this report documents examples where the Coastal Commission opposes projects that the Legislature encourages as a part of California’s efforts to combat climate change,” including bicycle lanes and infill developments. This offers fodder for YIMBYs who have battled the commission over bills to expand by-right development approvals to the coastal zone.

The commission took umbrage to the allegations, per a San Diego Union-Tribune report. For instance, commissioners argued that most of the highlighted projects ultimately gained approval. However, the Coastal Commission and its no-growth attitudes have no doubt slowed many projects – and discouraged developers from proposing them in the first place. It’s no surprise that regulations that limit development end up limiting the high-density, transit-oriented projects that many people on the Left seem to like.

Our solution is simple: Reduce the commission’s power and respect property rights. Then developments of all sorts can proceed. California might then gain the chance to address a housing-affordability crisis that is spiraling out of control.

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