Coastal bill restricts talk, and housing, too

John Santry
John Santry

We all want to help Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature solve the Golden State’s acute need for more housing. So why would legislators send the governor a bill that makes it even more difficult to build housing – especially in coastal cities?

Yet contrary to The Sacramento Bee’s opinion, “A murky bid to block Coastal Commission transparency” (Editorial, Aug. 7), that’s exactly what Senate Bill 1190 – the California Coastal Commission ex parte communications ban legislation – would do.

SB 1190, which faces a crucial vote Thursday in the Assembly Appropriations Committee, would give coastal zone housing applicants no opportunity to communicate directly with coastal commissioners, other than the 15 minutes allotted them at a commission hearing.

Try condensing a planned community, one that has taken years of hard work and compromise between elected and appointed officials, into a 15-minute presentation. It’s unfair to well-intentioned applicants who already face an arcane Coastal Commission system tilted against them.

Housing purveyors seek only a level playing field that allows applicants an equal opportunity to present their projects to – and receive direct feedback from – coastal commissioners. That way, each commissioner can cast a clear, informed vote.

If SB 1190 becomes law, applicants will have to rely solely on staff feedback to learn what commissioners think about their housing plans – feedback sure to be altered and degraded by secondhand communication or bias.

Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, was right when he told the Los Angeles Times: “Currently, it’s nearly impossible to get a full and adequate hearing without ex parte communications.”

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, in voting against SB 1190 on the Senate floor, stated that this bill is “too restrictive on communications between the public and its government.”

Democrats and Republicans agree: Ex parte communications are a practical avenue for applicants to ensure that projects get a fair Coastal Commission hearing.

I hope that the governor and Legislature will not allow SB 1190 to turn this avenue into a dead end.

John Santry is executive vice president of Shopoff Realty Investments in Irvine.