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The California Coastal Commission (CCC) is an unelected body that overrides the elected governments of coastal counties and cities on land use and property rights issues. The Commission wields enormous clout, but for more than 30 years it has lobbied for the power to levy fines directly, instead of going through the courts. As Josh Richman noted in the San Jose Mercury News, the state has now given the Commission this power.
Thanks to a budget trailer bill by Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, San Diego Democrat, the CCC can now avoid the courts and fine property owners they believe are illegally blocking public access to beaches. But, “the commission’s new power could affect landowners all up and down the coast.”
Atkins’s bill was not the subject of debate or hearings, but she told reporters, “I feel pretty comfortable that I haven’t gone out on a limb.” Property rights advocates didn’t see it that way. Damien Schiff of the Pacific Legal Foundation called it a “game changer” that would force property owners into costly litigation if they believe a fine is improper. Schiff expects the Commission to ask for an expansion of its new power. Atkins said that was unfounded and unreasonable and that the Commission would not “overreach.”
Bruce Johnson, founding research director of the Independent Institute, was one of the original appointees to the California Coastal Commission in 1973. He resigned after six months as he witnessed the rampant corruption, ignorance, and injustice underlying the Commission’s operations. In the 1990s, Commissioner Mark Nathanson served prison time for shaking down celebrities. The new power to levy fines will make that kind of corruption much more likely. And even more power is surely on the way.
Speaker Atkins claimed that the power to levy fines “is a small piece of what they should be allowed to do in order to protect the coast.” So the expansion of Commission power is indeed on Atkins’s agenda, and to get more power the Commissioners never need to face the voters. In California, regulatory zealots are number one. Taxpayers aren’t even number two.