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California Enacts Permanent Coastal Protection Act

October 1976

Citation: 6 ELR 10224

Issue: 10

The California legislature has finally ended four years of suspense by enacting the Coastal Act of 1976,1 which permanently establishes a permit program governing land use along the 1,100-mile California shoreline. The Act is the ultimate product of a process which began with the passage of an Initiative2 in 1972 that set up the California Coastal Zone Conservation Commission and a number of regional commissions and ordered them to develop a comprehensive coastal management plan for submission to the legislature before the end of 1976, when the Commissions were to go out of existence. Although the Act as passed contains a number of modifications from the original Coastal Plan3 submitted in December 1975, it still represents the strongest and most comprehensive coastal zone protection program4 yet adopted by any state, and thus may serve as both an impetus and a paradigm for future efforts by coastal states in the area of land use planning and controls.

The Act's central provision requires that anyone wishing to undertake development projects within a zone from 1,000 yards inland along the coast out to the limits of state territorial waters must obtain a coastal development permit from either a regional commission5 or from the now-permanent state commission. Amendments on the Senate floor, however, carved a number of specific exceptions out of this general rule. No permits are necessary for improvements to single-family residences, for maintenance dredging, or for categories of development later designated by a two-thirds vote of the state commission as having no potential for significant adverse impact on either coastal resources or public access to the coast. Developments located in "urban land areas" are also exempted from the permit requirements. "Urban land areas" are defined as residential areas zoned and developed to a density of four or more dwelling units per acre before January 1, 1977, and areas zoned and developed for commercial or industrial use prior to the same date. In addition, a grandfather clause exempts projects in which the developer obtained a vested right prior to January 1, 1977.

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