The California Coastal Commission now has the power to levy fines against people who have violated public access provisions of the Coastal Act. Specifically, SB 861, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown late last week, added Public Resources Code section 30821. Under this section, the Commission may levy a fine against those who purposefully block or impede coastal access and fail to correct the violation within 30 days after receiving a notice of violation. Fines must be approved by a majority of the Commission after a public hearing and may be enforced through a lien against the property where the violation took place. While a local agency may not be administratively fined for applicant-driven projects that it approves and that result in coastal access being impeded, if a local agency’s own project or actions results in public access issues (e.g., public works projects and activities, or management and policing policies), that local agency can be fined under this new section.
This legislation, which was included in the voluminous budget bills that the Governor signed into law, represents a significant additional enforcement tool for the Coastal Commission. Previously, the Commission had to go to court to get civil penalties assessed against those who blocked public access and engaged in development in the coastal zone without complying with the Coastal Act. The Commission and its supporters had argued that the need to go to court to obtain civil penalties significantly impeded its ability to enforce the Coastal Act, and that the Commission should be authorized to levy penalties on its own. A bill that would have allowed this was proposed in 2013, but rejected — partially due to the complaints of business and agricultural groups. The fact that the Commission now has at least part of the powers it sought last year suggests both that the Commission has substantial support in the Legislature and that it may receive the power to administratively levy fines against developers without coastal development permits in the near future.