The California Coastal Commission was created in 1972 by the California Coastal Act and charged with implementing and enforcing that monumental law, one of the main purposes of which is to “[m]aximize public access to and along the coast and maximize public recreational opportunities in the coastal zone.”1
A major way in which the Commission exercises this power is through the issuance of coastal development permits, about which the law states:2 … in addition to obtaining any other permit required by law from any local government or from any state, regional, or local agency, any person … wishing to perform or undertake any development in the coastal zone … shall obtain a coastal development permit.
The Act’s definition of “development,” found at §30106, is quite broad. It includes, e.g., “change in the density or intensity of use of land as well as “change in the intensity of use of water, or of access thereto.” It also requires at §30253(e) that new development “… protect special communities and neighborhoods that, because of their unique characteristics, are popular visitor destination points for recreational uses.”
Well, that last bit applies to Venice if it applies to any neighborhood in this state. Based on these requirements, therefore, anti-BID activists in Venice have been working out a very plausible theory that the establishment of the BID, and especially the BID’s private security force patrolling the public spaces adjacent to the beach, constitute development under the Coastal Act and that therefore they require a coastal development permit to be authorized.
And we can hope that such a permit would be unlikely to be authorized because whatever else BIDs may do, they certainly erode, attack, and destroy the unique characteristics of the neighborhoods they inhabit. This isn’t illegal in most parts of the City, but the Coastal Act preempts municipal law, so maybe BIDs are illegal in the Coastal Zone, or at least can be forced to severely limit their activities in order to obtain a coastal development permit.
And thanks to the persistence of this brave band of devoted activists, this idea gained a great deal of traction at the Coastal Commission’s meeting a couple weeks ago. Margaret Molloy gave a public comment outlining the theory and Commissioner Effie Turnbull Sanders,3 in direct response, asked Commission staff to research and report back on whether the Venice Beach BID or its activities constitute development.
Furthermore, Commission Chief Counsel Chris Pederson then stated:“I do not believe that the formation of the BID in and of itself qualifies as development. It may then engage in activities that qualify as development that would be subject to Coastal Commission review.” Audio of both of these parts of the meeting is available here and there are transcriptions (and a little more commentary) after the break.
My feeling is that it’s very rare for state-level commissions to act so directly in response to public comment, which is one reason why this is so important. I think Sanders’s directive to the staff and Pederson’s statement that some BID activities may qualify as development are an extremely significant development in the struggle against the Venice Beach BID. It may even turn out that other BIDs are affected.
I’m thinking primarily of the Downtown Santa Monica BID4 but there are probably many others around the state. And the Coastal Commission is to be feared indeed. They can ruin any zillionaire’s day with one stroke of a pen. How exciting would it be if they had some power over BIDs? Stay tuned for news as it develops!
Transcription of Margaret Molloy’s public comment to the Coastal Commission:
Hello again. A group of Venetians will be submitting materials to the Coastal Commission to document our belief that the Venice Beach Business Improvement District violates the Coastal Act mandate to protect unique community character, cultural and economic diversity, and access to the coast. It privatizes important public space. The Venice Beach BID was approved on November 9, 2016. It is not operational yet. City owned and state owned City operated properties make up 28% of the BID. These include Ocean Front Walk, a public coastal zone park and free speech zone per Abbott Kinney’s grant deed. It is also the access route to the beach. Also included are a public school, public library, public parking lots, a central median strip on a major street, a public skate park, and residential properties. Under Prop 218 a BID must provide special benefits that are not general benefits or benefits to the general public, yet 28% of the property is public property. The cost to the taxpayer exceeds $500,000 per year. The full budget of the BID is approximately 1.8 million dollars a year. The BID will be operated in Venice by the Venice Beach Property Owners Association, a nonprofit entity with a board of seven white men. This is not what Venice is about. The City Clerk submitted petitions for the City and state property in the formation stage of this private property owners’ BID. Votes in support of the BID were weighted and when combined with the City properties it appears that less than 25 property owners were required to pass this BID. It privatizes public space. Critical public space. The most important visitor destination in our state. We’re looking at you, Mr. Pederson! It also appears to violate the Streets and Highways Code 36501, which states: “businesses located and operating within business districts of this states’ communities that are economically disadvantaged, are underutilized, and are unable to attract customers due to inadequate facilities, services, and activities in the business districts.” You can’t say that about the most popular destination in the state. But it will fundamentally change our area. All costs will be passed on, it’s going to change who can do business, who can operate, the food costs, the parking costs, everything. Artist Guy Dill spoke at a public meeting. He was talking about a lease for the property of the BID operators. I want to make a comment in regard to the lease. I know who owns the property. She’s in the BID. She can’t afford it. She has to rent below market value to you to afford the BID that’s going to displace her ultimately. She’s 80 years old. There’s probably about… [Time ended]
Transcription of Commissioner Sanders’ response and staff commentary:
Effie Turnbull Sanders: There was mention in public comment about a BID or business improvement district in Venice and there were some concerns about compliance with the ??? and other issues around kind of potential Coastal Commission jurisdiction. Is staff looking into that? And maybe if Mr. Pedersen can give us an overview or a perspective on that.
Chris Pederson: My understanding is that concerns about the business improvement district have been raised with the Long Beach office staff. I don’t know all the details of the specific concerns. I think there’ve been issues raised about whether the formation of the BID required a coastal development permit. I think there are also some concerns about its activities. I do not believe that the formation of the BID in and of itself qualifies as development. It may then engage in activities that qualify as development that would be subject to Coastal Commission review.
Sanders: Is it possible for us to get a report-back on that?
Jack Ainsworth: We can research that a little more. I am concerned about this notion of privatizing public spaces. I’m not sure what that’s about but we can look into that and I’ll have Deputy Director Hudson look into that.
- See California Coastal Act at §30001.5(c).
- At §30600(a).
- Sanders is the so-called “environmental justice” member. The composition of the Commission is determined by §30301, which was amended in 2017 to add subsection (f), which requires that ” one of the representatives shall reside in, and work directly with, communities in the state that are disproportionately burdened by, and vulnerable to, high levels of pollution and issues of environmental justice, including, but not limited to, communities with diverse racial and ethnic populations and communities with low-income populations.”
- As hard as it is to remember in these latter days, Downtown Santa Monica actually did used to have a unique character, or any character at all. Those days are long, long gone, but maybe there’s still something human there for the Coastal Commission to protect.