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Coastal Protection

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Sonoma County citizens have played a pivotal role in the establishment of the California Coastal Commission, and have been leaders in coastal protection.

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Protecting Our Coast

Sonoma County citizens have played a pivotal role in the establishment of the California Coastal Commission, and have been leaders in coastal protection. In Northern California, contemporary awareness of the need for coastal protection began with the attempt by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in 1962 to build a nuclear power plant on Bodega Head. The project was defeated due to work by a local and statewide opposition and the presence of the San Andreas Fault on the site. PG&E abandoned the site and left the excavation for the nuclear reactor as a water-filled “Hole in the Head.”

In the mid to late 1960s, industrial projects, housing developments, and other projects which threatened the California coast began to multiply:

  1. Five additional power plant sites were proposed;
  2. The mouth of the Russian River was to be dredged for gravel to construct Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART);
  3. Coastal wetlands were being filled or dredged for new marinas;
  4. Public views and access to beaches were eliminated due to construction of miles of beach houses along the Malibu coastline;
  5. Public access to 10 miles of the Sonoma County Coast were to be eliminated for The Sea Ranch second home development;
  6. The City of Long Beach ruled that all new buildings along the most scenic coastal roadway be high-rise structures; and
  7. The last straw, a blowout from an oil drilling platform off the Santa Barbara coast in January 1969. The result was a huge public outcry for greater protection of the California coast.

COAAST, Coastal Access Initiative, and Dunlap Bill

Two years later, Assemblyman John Dunlap was successful in passing Assembly Bill 493 (Dunlap Bill) that carried out the Coastal Access Initiative language for the whole state. Under the Dunlap Bill, no county shall approve either the tentative or final map of any subdivision fronting on the coastline or shoreline which does not provide or have available reasonable public access by fee or easement from the public highway to the ocean or bay shoreline.

Coastal Alliance and Proposition 20

The Coastal Access Initiative also caught the attention of Assemblyman Alan Sieroty, who with Assemblyman Dunlap came to Sonoma County to hold Assembly hearings on The Sea Ranch and to ask COAAST to organize statewide all the groups involved in coastal protection. Sonoma County’s Bill Kortum of COAAST created a statewide network of coastal protection activists (the Coastal Coalition comprised of 12 environmental groups), which in 1970 advocated for a bill to establish a commission for the California coast. The Coastal Coalition morphed into the Coastal Alliance, comprised of 110 environmental groups interested in saving the California coast, chaired by Kortum.

In 1971 and 1972, Assemblymen Sieroty and Dunlap introduced Assembly Bill 1471 (AB 1471) to protect the entire California coast. Their idea was to introduce legislation to create a Coastal Commission to address statewide concerns for coastal protection. For three years legislation passed through the State Assembly but not the Senate Committee. The heavy lobbying from the energy sector, California Real Estate Association, County Supervisors’ Association, League of California Cities, and many others was effective in defeating the legislation calling for a Coastal Commission.

Recognizing that legislative efforts weren’t moving forward, the Coastal Alliance, with assistance from attorney Peter Douglas of Assemblyman Sieroty’s staff and attorney Lew Reid, wrote a ballot initiative measure known as Proposition 20 (California Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972 ) containing the main language of Sieroty and Dunlap’s AB 1471. Proposition 20 appeared on the November 7, 1972 ballot and was approved by voters.