A bill working its way through the California State Assembly could bestow more strength to the already mighty California Coastal Commission. Known as AB 976, the bill cleared the Natural Resources Committee on April 2; if adopted, it would give the commission administrative authority to impose fines and even liens on property owners who violate the Coastal Act.
Under current law, the commission can issue cease-and-desist orders against violators, but if the orders are ignored, the commission has to go through the county superior court for enforcement, an often slow and cumbersome process.
According to the bill’s author, Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego), the commission currently has more than 1,800 open enforcement cases on its radar and has pursued just four in court in the last decade.
“If we cannot enforce the law, those protections become a toothless paper tiger,” Atkins wrote in a press release.
The bill’s language would require the commission to meet in a public hearing and achieve a majority vote before imposing fines, and punitive measures would be limited to three quarters of the damages that could have been sought in court. The money would be deposited in a Coastal Act Services Fund until the Legislature votes to apply it to specific restoration projects.
On April 2, Pismo Beach City Attorney Dave Fleishman suggested the city submit a letter opposing the bill and send it to district representative Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian with council member signatures. He warned that the bill could subject the city and local property owners to potential fines of $15,000 a day.
Before AB 976 can become law, the bill must move through the Assembly Judiciary and Appropriations Committees and earn majority support on the Assembly Floor. The California Senate would need to approve the bill as well before it could go to the governor for a signature.
A similar bill failed to emerge from the California Senate in 2011