Saturday, September 7, 2013
STATE SENATE PASSES ATKINS BILL TO PROTECT COAST
(Sacramento) The California Senate today passed legislation by Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins that enables the California Coastal Commission to levy penalties against those who disregard orders to stop violating the California Coastal Act. AB 976 will bring Coastal Commission authority in line with most other state agencies tasked with enforcing environmental laws.
“The voters of California made public access to our beaches and protection of our coastline a priority through their vote in 1972,” says Atkins. “My bill will ensure that the agency tasked with enforcing the Coastal Act has the tools to perform its mission, while avoiding costly litigation and ensuring the fair treatment of all. I am grateful to my colleagues for their support of our coast.”
“As a former Coastal Commissioner, I can testify that the Commission urgently needs the penalty authority provided by this measure to deter Coastal Act violations and help protect coastal access for all Californians,” said Assemblymember Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), principal co-author of AB 976. “I urge the Assembly to pass this critical measure, and I hope that the Governor will sign it.”
Violations of the Coastal Act can include blocking public access to beaches, damaging environmentally sensitive habitats, or unauthorized development. Currently, the Commission can issue cease and desist orders to violators, but must pursue litigation through the California Attorney General’s office in order to enforce those orders if they are ignored, a costly and time-consuming process. The Coastal Commission currently has over 1800 open enforcement cases and new violations are reported to them more quickly than they can close existing ones. AB 976 will allow the Coastal Commission to fine violators in much the same way as other environmental agencies, such as the State Water Board and the Department of Fish and Wildlife. AB 976 will also ensure opportunities to challenge fines and provides rigorous due process protections.
The California Coastal Commission was created by California voters in 1972, through their approval of Proposition 20, and later made permanent by the California Coastal Act of 1976. The Coastal Act protects beaches, wetlands, water quality, and wildlife in an area of land and water larger than the State of Rhode Island.
AB 976 now returns briefly to the Assembly before going to the Governor.