Pismo opposes penality bill

A South County city is at odds with proposed legislation that supporters contend would put more teeth into the California Coastal Commission’s ability to enforce its regulations.

Senate Bill 588 stalled this week in the state Legislature, but that didn’t stop the Pismo Beach City Council from unanimously registering its opposition Tuesday.

As proposed, the bill, authored by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, would allow the commission to impose penalties of no less than $5,000 and no more than $50,000 per violation of the Coastal Act. It would also allow the commission to attach a lien on a property at which a violation occurred.

The money would be put into an existing fund until appropriated by the state Legislature to enforce the Coastal Act, according to an analysis of the bill.

The legislation ignited opposition across the state from farmers, landowners and other business groups who said that enforcement of violations should remain with the judicial branch.

Evans’ office said it would give the Coastal Commission an effective deterrent against would-be violators, according to a bill analysis. Commission staff said it would also reduce litigation costs, allow the state to address more violations more efficiently, and protect the coast and its resources.

A letter from the Pismo Beach council that will be sent to Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, says the proposal would give the commission a “bounty hunter” approach to enforcement of the act.

“We want to send this letter to protect our interests, of course, but we equally share a concern that the Coastal Commission’s power is becoming overreaching and we need to protect the interests of our residents and our property owners as well,” said Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham.

When asked about his stance on the bill, Blakeslee said in an email that he shared the council’s concerns.

“Granting the Coastal Commission new sweeping powers to levy fines would violate due process protections, which is why the courts currently handle such matters,” he wrote.

City officials’ concerns also partly stem from an open enforcement case the Coastal Commission has had for several years against it over the placement of seven parking kiosks. The city in 2008 installed 12 kiosks, seven of which are located in parts of the downtown area over which the commission has jurisdiction.

So far this fiscal year, from July 1 through March 31, they’ve brought in $250,691, said Community Development Director Jon Biggs.

Commission staff said the city failed to get the correct permits for the work. Pismo Beach officials said the city sent a notice of its approved permit and that the time period for the commission to appeal the parking plan had lapsed.

Senate Bill 588 as proposed does contain a provision exempting public agencies when “acting in a legislative or adjudicative capacity,” said Pismo Beach attorney Dave Fleishman, but does not define it.

“It is distinctly possible that the Coastal Commission could assert that the parking program implementation is neither legislative nor adjudicative, and the city could be faced with massive fines,” he wrote in a staff report to the council.

The Coastal Commission currently has authority to issue a cease-and-desist order to those developing within the coastal zone without a permit. Only superior courts are able to impose civil penalties of up to $30,000 on those who violate the act. Additional penalties of $1,000 to $15,000 per day can be imposed on violations determined to be intentional and knowing.