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Reform of landmark coastal law can restore balance between housing and the environment – ​​Marin Independent Journal

Reform of landmark coastal law can restore balance between housing and the environment – ​​Marin Independent Journal

Reform of landmark coastal law can restore balance between housing and the environment – ​​Marin Independent Journal

Limits oil drilling that endangers the planet’s climate and threatens to pollute our shorelines. Prevents paving over stunningly beautiful rural areas of the coast. Preserves threatened wetlands and other sensitive habitats. Expands public access to the coast despite fierce opposition from some of the nation’s wealthiest landowners.

Yet the urban aspects of the Coastal Act have too often failed. The end result: extraordinarily expensive coastal housing, suburban sprawl into the hottest regions of the state, a transportation system that relies almost entirely on automobiles along the coast, and painfully long commutes for workers who can’t afford to live close to their employers.

This tension has built up over time and has led to intense debate over reforms on Capitol Hill and elsewhere in recent years.

The law not only sets strict protections for habitat, open space and agricultural lands, but requires concentrating new development in urbanized areas, minimizing energy use and automobile travel, and promoting public transportation, walking and bicycling. It states that concentrating development in urban areas is generally more protective of coastal resources overall than focusing on preserving specific resources.

The Coastal Act envisions compact cities that serve the social and economic needs of the state while coexisting in harmony with nearby rural areas and the state’s environmental health. But that vision depends on providing sufficient housing within those cities for all segments of society, and doing so in a way that allows residents, workers and visitors to minimize automobile use.

Unfortunately, the California Coastal Commission and most local governments have made it a priority to perpetuate the status quo by codifying rules that severely limit multifamily housing in most urban areas. For decades, the commission has approved dozens of local coastal programs that restrict large areas of coastal cities to single-family homes.

In areas where apartment buildings are permitted, they are typically subject to strict rules that limit their size and often face long, unpredictable journeys to approval.

The commission recognizes that many coastal neighborhoods were initially created for explicitly exclusionary and discriminatory reasons. Deed restrictions barred nonwhite residents, and strict rules on housing types effectively excluded low-income families.

Racial discrimination in housing is now illegal, but freezing the scale of these old coastal neighborhoods in order to preserve their visual character solidifies their exclusivity.

The low density of most coastal urban areas reinforces their dependence on automobiles. Under the guise of protecting public access to the coast, the commission and local governments require new housing to provide excessive amounts of parking and restrict the amount of new housing in an attempt to limit congestion. They create bureaucratic obstacles to transit, bicycle, and pedestrian improvements for fear that they might reduce parking or slow down cars.

All of this raises the question: How can we make the Coastal Law work in our coastal cities?