Low-income communities and people of color will enjoy fuller access to California’s beaches thanks to the California Coastal Commission’s adoption of an environmental justice policy Friday that will provide clear guidelines for development projects along the Pacific Coast.
The guidelines will ensure that when the agency reviews permit requests, it considers factors such as outreach to tribal communities, public access to beaches, affordable housing options and each project’s potential impact on climate change.
Friday’s commission meeting in Los Angeles recognized California’s history of racial discrimination in seaside communities going back to the turn of the 20th century when affluent, white residents often blocked people of color from coastal communities and leisure activities on the beach.
Over a two-year period, the commission reached out to environmental justice groups, nonprofits and tribal bodies across California for input on its environmental justice policy. Over 50 environmental justice and nonprofit groups collaborated with the commission to draft the new policy.
Marce Gutierrez-Graudiņs, director and founder of the Latino advocacy nonprofit Azul, said access violations in which developers blocked people from public beaches have been a big issue.
“Our hope is this is the start of a new way of doing things at the coastal commission,” Gutierrez-Graudiņs said in an interview. “We hope that this leads to a more inclusive and more impactful application of the Coastal Act…because it has failed in the past to ensure access for all Californians.”
The 1976 Coastal Act granted the California Coastal Commission authority to oversee public access to the state’s coasts.
The commission wields a tremendous amount of power, according to civil rights attorney Robert García with the nonprofit The City Project, a co-sponsor of a 2016 assembly bill that led to the commission’s new policy.
The intersection of environmental and societal conflicts is an obvious fight for Garcia, who said he has been advocating for greater public access to beaches for years.
“More and more the public is recognizing there are not two crises – one environmental and one social. There is one crisis. An environmental justice crisis,” García said in an interview. . . .
“We’re not only looking at the physical barriers but the socioeconomic barriers,” Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh added.
“Over the last five years, the Commission has questioned whether we are doing enough to provide access for all to our beaches, a right guaranteed under the California constitution,” said Coastal Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders. “Achieving true equity requires us to first understand and own our history of disenfranchisement; then, work diligently and deliberately to create full and inclusive participation in process, policy and benefits. Now the real work begins.”
“The development of this policy has been such a humbling and inspiring journey for us all at the agency,” said Executive Director Jack Ainsworth. “It’s the future of this agency and, frankly, the right thing to do.”
The Commission makes clear equity and equal protection under the law go hand in hand, requiring combined organizing and legal enforcement strategies to ensure access for all. “[E]nvironmental justice emerged out of the civil rights movement to describe the application of civil rights and social justice to environmental contexts,” according to the complete Policy Report. The Policy restates the Commission’s obligation to enforce the Coastal Act, as well as California Government Code section 11135 and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which provide for equal access and prohibit discrimination. The Policy uses “equity” to refer to outcomes for all groups, with no one factor, such as race, determining outcomes. Demographic and census data is required to analyze benefits and burdens of coastal programs and activities, such as the data US EPA EJSCREEN provides. Next steps for the Commission – and the people – are to implement the Policy through stated objectives, the Commission’s forthcoming Five Year Strategic Plan, a Racial Equity Action Plan, actions on specific matters, and more.
Diverse allies supported adoption and implementation of the Policy, including: Anahuak Youth Sports Association, Azul, Native American leader Robert Bracamontes, Central Coastal Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE), California Coastal Protection Network,California Environmental Justice AllianceCalifornia LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) and Ventura LULAC, Center for Biological Diversity, Center for Biological Diversity, Citizens for Responsible Oil and Gas, The City Project, City Surf Project, Clean Water Fund, Community Nature Connection, Defenders of Wildlife, EarthJustice, Earthwise Productions, GirlVentures, GreenLatinos, Harambee House Inc. / Citizens for Environmental Justice (CFEJ), IDARE LLC, National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Ocean Conservation Research, Poverty & Race Research Action Council, The Praxis Project, Sierra Club, Sonoma County Regional Parks, West Oakland Environmental Indicators Project, The Wilderness Society,
Assemblymembers Autumn Burke (D-Inglewood), Monique Limon (D-Santa Barbara), and Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) wrote in support.
By adopting and implementing an environmental justice policy, the Coastal Commission is demonstrating its commitment to diversity and protecting coastal natural resources for the benefit of all Californians regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic status, or place of residence. For more information see:
Coastal Commmission Environmental Justice Policy.
Enact Environmental Justice Policy, public comments by diverse allies (March 6, 2019).
Promulgar borrador del medio ambiente, recomendaciones de alianza diversa (6 de marzo de 2019).
Highlights environmental justice comments, by Samuel David García Stanford ’18 (March 7, 2019).
California Coastal Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sandes with staff from the Commission, Azul, and The City Project at the California African American Museum following the March 8 hearing.