Coastal Commission Conservation Voting Analyzed by Sierra Club
• Some Malibu Agenda Items Play Role in the Study that Found a Drop In the Score
BY BILL KOENEKER
Sierra Club California recently announced the release of its 2011 California Coastal Commission Conservation Voting Chart.
The chart produced by the Sierra Club and the League for Coastal Protection is used to measure the pro-conservation scores of the commission as a whole and individual commissioners.
The 2011 report examined 23 separate votes or agenda items (several of those items were taken from Malibu agenda items), which were analyzed in consultation with coastal conservation activists based on their likely impact on coastal resources, their potential to set important statewide precedent and whether the project employed one or more paid lobbyists, according to the report.
Overall, the commission score dropped from 61 percent in 2010 to 56 percent in 2011.
The coastal panel reviews about a 1000 projects per year and approves most of them, according to the Sierra Club report.
"This voting chart is designed to highlight only the most important votes, where the environmental stakes are high, including several major issues of concern to the California environmental community," the report notes.
For example, The Edge's project high in the hills above Sweetwater Mesa was analyzed for how commissioners voted as well as the Malibu Valley Farms revocation hearing, approval of the City of Malibu's LCP amendment dealing with lights at the high school and approval of the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works repair and restoration of lower Topanga Creek were included in the review.
In the instance of the night lights at the high school, the report noted: "During the 2009 deliberations, the commissioners described the detrimental effects high intensity night lighting had on the coast and on the wildlife that thrives there.
"During the 2011 deliberations, commissioners who had vigorously argued against nighttime lights in 2009 sat silent. New commissioners declared that this neighborhood in Malibu that lies 1500 feet from Zuma Beach and is defined by the absence of any street lights, sidewalks or curbs, where nighttime lighting of tennis courts is prohibited, was suburban and suitable for nighttime lights."
In the case of lower Topanga Creek, the report insists, "Commissioners disregarded the environmental community's pleas for a long-term management plan consistent with the larger restoration plan in this area, and approved indefinitely the myopic plan [sought by the county]."
Commenting on the Malibu Valley Farm revocation hearing, the report states, "Commissioners indicated that they had to rely on the staff's recommendation to deny the revocation since most were not on the commission during the initial hearing on the permit. Staff's out-of-the-blue claim in its report that the local zoning approval requirement had been waived is currently being litigated in the Los Angeles Superior Court."
The commission denied the application sought by The Edge and his phalanx of attorneys and lobbyists for five mansions on a ridge high above Sweetwater Mesa.
"This project did not conform to several important sections of the Coastal Act. The matter was complicated by the fact that the applicant hired too many lawyers and lobbyists and that those consultants and experts sacrificed their clients' well-established environmental credentials in their illogical insistence on novel private property rights issues."
Some of the key findings include:
The average conservation score for the entire commission dropped from 61 percent in 2010 to 56 percent in 2011. This follows a drop in 2009 from 66 percent.
Of the six "public" members, former Commissioner Sara Wan, who resides in Malibu, had the highest conservation voting score at 75 percent (down from her 2009 rating of 83 percent and her 2010 rating of 80 percent).
Commissioner William Burke in 2011 was absent eight times for the votes scored in the chart. "This represents more absences than any other commissioner based on the votes scored," the report notes
The Sierra Club concludes there is still much to be valued by ongoing public involvement "to make sure the commissioners adequately and correctly review proposed projects against the California Coastal Act criteria."
"With an average conservation voting score of 51 percent for the Coastal Commission over the past 24 years, Sierra Club California and activists from our eight coastal chapters are committed to continuing to fulfill this role along with our coastal allies."