California Coastal Democracy at Forty: Time for a Tune-up

  • December 2016
  • 36 Stan.Envtl.L.J. 109
  • Article

California fashions itself a laboratory of democracy, often pioneering populist voter reforms, sweeping open-government laws, and experimental agency governance structures. Nowhere is this more true than in the design and passage of the California Coastal Act, first enacted through a statewide ballot initiative in response to alarming developments along the coast and subsequently codified by the state legislature. There is little dispute that this transformative legislation slowed the pace of large-scale new development in the coastal zone, although construction activities continue to occur with regularity along California’s varied and lengthy shoreline. On the fortieth anniversary of the contemporary Coastal Act, this article takes stock, asking where we are headed over the next forty years and how to get there in a way that remains faithful to the robust public values enshrined in California’s most democracy-affirming conservation law.

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