I don't remember being more disappointed in a group of public officials as I was at the Coastal Commission yesterday. The hearing I attended was to review the staff findings based on the Commission's actions on the upper Bolsa Chica wetlands area owned by the Shea Co. The purpose of the hearing was for the commissioners who voted in favor of the project in November
( the prevailing side) to confirm the staff had incorporated the commissions changes made at the November meeting. The only thing to be discussed were the changes made in the staff recommendations by the commission members last November.
Included in the staff report in November was a requirement for a 4:1 mitigation for wetland destruction that occurred on the property. The commission in November recognized the existence of a 4 acre wetland on the site. There was no discussion at the November meeting of the mitigation, and the commission did not make any changes to this requirement in November.
However, a 4:1 mitigation for a 4 acre wetland would mean the possibility of a 16 acre mitigation project, perhaps on the site, reducing the area available for the housing project. The representatives of the Shea Co. not only argued that the commission had removed this requirement in November ( in complete disregard for reality) but the commission agreed in a 5-0 vote.
Not only that, but during the hearing on the item, one of Shea's lobbyists handed out a yellow piece of paper to the commissioners with the motions the company wanted, and guess what-Commissioner Secord read motion by motion directly from the paper handed out by Shea's lobbyist.
Things got a little tricky with the last motion which included incorporation of language contained in an addendum handed out by the Shea Co. earlier in the day. The public had not seen this document, so we had no idea of what the last motion actually did. Plus since the document was handed out to the commissioners while they were deliberating on other agenda items, I doubt any of them had time to read the whole thing. Commissoner Wan pointed out inaccuracies in Shea's document she had found in the brief time she had to look over the information, but since she was not on the prevailing side of the vote in November, she could not vote on the motions.
So in essence they were passing motions written by the developer, including language they had not read, which had also been written by the developer. Even this motion passed 3-2.
As a member of the public, and a former Mayor, I was terribly disappointed by the way the majority of the commissioners did the bidding of the developer, and ignored the factual information presented by the Bolsa Chica Land Trust and members of the public.
So is this it? Can nothing be done? Well, in 1996 the Coastal Commissioners did the bidding of the Koll Company on a massive plan for construction at Bolsa Chica that violated the Coastal Act, the very law the Commissioners are supposed to uphold. The Bolsa Chica Land Trust sued, and won. That victory not only protected wetlands, and Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas at Bolsa Chica, but all coastal wetlands in the State. Maybe it's time to remind the commissioners, that as much as they would like to disregard the rules governing coastal development, there are groups out there who will challenge them when they do so!