A Bug in the Programs: The Need to Create Greater Incentives for Local Coastal Program Updates

  • December 2016
  • 36 Stan.Envtl.L.J. 3
  • Article

Under the California Coastal Act, local governments develop local coastal programs (LCPs) intended to promote Coastal Act policies in a manner that is adapted to the particular needs of each jurisdiction. Once LCPs are certified by the Coastal Commission, they become the key set of policies governing development in the jurisdictions they cover. The certification process ensures that an LCP adequately promotes Coastal Act policies as of the time it is certified. Sometimes, however, it becomes apparent after certification that the LCP is deficient in some significant respect, because of changing physical characteristics of the lands it regulates, developing scientific or policy understandings, or a variety of other reasons. This Article considers that issue, noting that the Coastal Act creates strong incentives for local governments to develop LCPs and obtain certification, but much weaker incentives for local governments to revise their LCPs when necessary to address relevant issues of statewide concern. The Article discusses specific cases in which those weaker incentives have been an obstacle to effective protection of coastal resources. It concludes with a proposal for amending the Coastal Act to provide a more robust appeals process when a local government has declined to implement the recommendations of the Commission’s periodic review. This change would increase the incentives for local governments to update their LCPs, and enable both the Coastal Commission and Coastal Act policies to play a greater role in the review of coastal development permit applications when a local government has refused to address significant flaws in its certified LCP.

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