LOS ANGELES (CN) – 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 Garcia 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,” Garcia said in an interview.
Beach access fights often play out in courts, with landowners seeking to privatize public beaches. Recently, a group of public access advocates intervened in a fight between the Hollister Ranch Owners Association and the State Coastal Conservancy.
At Friday’s meeting, Commissioner Effie Turnbull-Sanders said the new policy will bolster their ability to keep beaches open to the public.
“We’re not only looking at the physical barriers but the socioeconomic barriers,” Commissioner Sara Aminzadeh added.