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Another side to the state Coastal Commission

August 24, 2008|Kenneth R. Weiss | Times Staff Writer

To hear the fixers and property rights activists tell it, the California Coastal Commission is a ferociously activist agency that terrorizes homeowners and developers alike along the state's famous coastline. Its dozen commissioners have the power to determine the fate of everything from development of a new golf course to expansion of the garage of any home in the coastal zone. But is it so tough?

Not according to the self-titled Coast Huggers, who keep tabs on key votes. The Sierra Club activists and others who follow the commission's business say the commissioners voted in favor of protecting the coast only 44% of the time in 26 key votes in 2007. Of course, such a tally is a bit subjective. But the vote analysis has been done for decades by the same coastal activists, who point out that today's appointees are far less likely to hold back development in the name of the Coastal Act than most of their predecessors in the last 20 years.

"The chart underscores the dismal failure of Gov. [Arnold] Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker [Fabian] Nunez to walk the talk," said Mark Massara, a Sierra Club lawyer who has dogged the commission for years. "Their administrations have been characterized by speechmaking and rhetoric on the environment, while their commissioners' votes tend toward coastal development and coastal disfigurement."

Beach cleanups too little too late

In a previous year, the California Coastal Cleanup Day poster featured a Cig Egret, a creepy coastal bird with a bill that morphed into a filtered cigarette. It was an artist's illustration to signify that 4.2 million cigarette butts have been picked up since the mid-1980s. Then there was the Cola Bass, the Spork Crab, the Spare Tire Turtle -- well, you get the idea. The California Coastal Commission, working with an ad agency, allows folks to collect the entire set of nonnative species of the California coast.

This year's featured creature is no less bizarre, one drawn to illustrate the proliferation of bottle caps and other plastic debris that end up in the ocean or on the state's beaches.

The Coastal Commission, working with various nonprofit groups, is organizing another cleanup day for 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 20 at 700 locations. Last year, about 60,000 people picked up nearly 1 million pounds of debris.

Does this frenzy of activity do any good?

Charles Moore, a gentleman scientist who has devoted his life to halting the proliferation of marine debris, believes such efforts are excellent tools for public education. But he maintains that they do little to tackle the problem head-on. Instead of such cleanups, he believes the solution is to staunch the flow of debris washing into the oceans. About 80% of such debris comes from the land, washing off city streets into storm drains and rivers and out to sea or being blown by the wind to the sea. The rest is jettisoned by ships.

The California Ocean Protection Council has drafted a strategy to reduce such plastic debris. The solutions, the council report says, are extensive and involve the state Legislature toughening anti-litter laws and developing other incentives to change public behavior.


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