California Forum

Another View: Coastal Commission has right, responsibility to review projects

Jennifer Savage
Jennifer Savage

In Dan Walters’ column, “Coastal panel ambitions” (Insight, Nov. 10), he ignores the heart of the California Coastal Commission’s responsibilities and distorts the commission’s intent.

Walters acknowledges the Coastal Act’s relevance to access and development but fails to mention that this pioneering legislation also addresses far more comprehensive issues affecting California’s coast: recreation, protection, low-cost visitor accommodation, agricultural lands, commercial fisheries, industry, water quality, offshore oil and gas development, transportation, power plants, ports and public works.

For nearly four decades, the Coastal Commission’s dedication to a well-managed coast has experienced strong popular support from the majority of Californians.

State and federal law provides that the Coastal Commission can review any projects that may affect California’s coastal resources to ensure consistency with the Coastal Act, regardless of whether the projects are inside the coastal zone. In fact, for certain projects, federal agencies and applicants must inform the Coastal Commission so the commission can perform its intended role. This authority ensures that federal projects and permits take California’s interests into account, and it should not be taken lightly.

The Coastal Commission’s attention to the contentious Gregory Canyon landfill fits logically within the scope of its influence. The project, located along the San Luis Rey River, sits atop an aquifer running to the ocean and supplying water to thousands of homes.

Not only would the landfill generate more than an estimated 30 million tons of waste threatening surface and groundwater – especially alarming given the drought – but it could harm steelhead returning from the ocean, as well as endangered birds dependent on the river. Adding to these threats, a fault line runs underneath the proposed landfill.

These dangers have compelled opposition to the Gregory Canyon landfill project for more than 20 years.Multiple citizen groups have fought to stop it, including the Pala Band of Mission Indians, whom Walters dismisses as merely owning a nearby casino, without acknowledging the aggressive desecration of a sacred place.

Considering the city of Oceanside passed a resolution against the landfill, the Coastal Commission was, in effect, asked to intervene. Walters is correct in stating that the Gregory Canyon project is highly controversial, the river does flow to the sea and California’s dedication to protecting its coastline has always been ambitious. But not only does the commission have the right to review federal permits potentially allowing harm to coastal resources, it has a responsibility to do so.

Jennifer Savage is the California policy manager for the Surfrider Foundation.