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Protecting Coastline Is a Lonely Job

February 03, 1991|MARK GLADSTONE

SAN FRANCISCO — As a teen-ager, Nancy Cave pedaled her bicycle from Westminster to nearby Huntington Beach to bask in the sun along the strand.

Now, she spends a lot less time enjoying the beach and a lot more time in a high-rise office building, fretting about illegal developments destroying the state's coastline.

For most of the past six years, Cave, 38, has been the California Coastal Commission's only full-time enforcement officer, the sole official responsible for investigating complaints ranging from illegal seawalls to massive grading along the state's 1,100-mile shoreline.

As concern among some legislators and environmentalists has mounted in recent years about the commission's ability to do its job, Cave has come to symbolize the panel's staffing problems. It is hardly a position the low-key Cave could have imagined for herself.

She graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in European history. The emphasis of her studies was on French history. Appropriately, she envisioned herself teaching students about France's Maginot Line, not serving as the guardian of California's coastline.

But needing a job, she signed on to run a copying machine at a Coastal Commission office in Santa Barbara in 1977. She then proceeded to work herself up the commission's bureaucratic ladder, becoming a secretary and then an analyst. In 1984, she was promoted to the enforcement officer's post.

Cave remains undaunted by the tidal wave of paperwork she faces. "There's a million things going on in enforcement. I don't think about my workload. If I did, I'd go nuts," she said.

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