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Report documents California Coastal Commission's resistance to new housing

The nonprofit think tank Circulate San Diego released a report Friday that takes aim at the California Coastal Commission and its broad authority to delay or block approvals of new housing.

The report, titled "A Better Coastal Commission," is aimed at bolstering efforts to reform the agency, which is tasked with preserving natural resources and protecting coastal access. The agency has jurisdiction over roughly 1.5 million acres along the coastline extending as far as five miles inland.

Included in the report are examples of the commission blocking bike lanes and withholding approval of mixed-income apartment buildings by as much as four years. The report's author, Will Moore, said that makes housing more expensive, exacerbates racial segregation and forces people into longer commutes.


"We trust the Coastal Commission … to be the guardians of the coast," Moore said. "They have this lovely green halo of environmental protection around them. But that's not how they're behaving."

One case study in the report is a project that would replace a vacant fast food restaurant in Los Angeles with 39 apartments, eight of which would be set aside as affordable housing for low- and moderate-income households. The project won unanimous approval from the LA City Council in March 2021.

Then a group of nearby residents appealed that approval to the Coastal Commission. More than two and a half years later, the commission ultimately decided the appeal had no merit.

"There's an abandoned Burger King just sitting on that property," Moore said. "And the Coastal Commission doesn't take that sort of impact on a community into account when they're delaying projects for two, three years at a time for what turns out to be no good reason."

Circulate San Diego is sponsoring a bill with Assemblymember David Alvarez (D-San Diego), AB 2560, that would require the Coastal Commission to streamline approvals of housing developments that use the state's affordable housing density bonus law. The law offers homebuilders relief from certain development regulations if they agree to rent a portion of their homes below the market rate.


Supporters of the bill argue the commission wields its power capriciously and without objective timelines or standards, leading many developers to simply give up on efforts to build denser housing in the coastal zone. Moore said this leaves coastal communities with a housing stock dominated by luxury single-family homes, making those communities more exclusive, whiter and wealthier than inland communities.

A Coastal Commission staffer testified against the bill at an Assembly committee hearing in April. The bill was approved by the Assembly in May and now awaits hearings in the Senate.

Coastal Commission spokesman Joshua Emerson Smith told KPBS in a statement: "Circulate San Diego, which is funded by the real estate industry, has provided no credible evidence for its deeply offensive assertion that the commission has exacerbated racial segregation in coastal communities. Density bonus projects are regularly approved in the coastal zone every year, and the commission is not aware of ever having denied such a project."