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Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Proposed Legislation Would Beef Up CCC Enforcement

• Critics Say AB 976 Concentrates Power

BY BILL KOENEKER

Assembly Bill 976, legislation authored by Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D-78th District-San Diego), which would give the California Coastal Commission authority to levy financial penalties on violators of the Coastal Act, was approved last month by the Assembly Natural Resources Committee as the bill wends its way through Sacramento.
The coastal panel can currently issue cease and desist orders to violators, but must pursue litigation through the state Attorney General’s office in order to enforce those orders if they are ignored, a costly and time consuming process, according to Atkins’ office.
AB 976 would allow the CCC to fine violators in much the same way as other environmental regulatory agencies such as the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Board and the California Energy Commission.
The coastal agency indicates it has over 1800 open enforcement cases. New violations are reported to them faster than they can close existing cases. Proponents including Atkins say going to court to enforce the law is a “lengthy and cumbersome process and is extremely burdensome,” for both the Attorney General and the Coastal Commission and has been done only four times in the last decade, according to the coastal agency.
Predictably, proponents of the Coastal Commission are lining up to support the measure, while critics of the coastal agency appear to be out in force expressing concern the proposed policing policies could easily be abused by the state agency.
The proposed legislation,  will also ensure opportunities to challenge fines and due process protections. Atkins says it will give the Coastal Commission the tools it needs to protect public access to the coast and prevent degradation and damage.
“If we cannot enforce the law, [the coastal] protections become a toothless paper tiger,” said Atkins, in a press release.
AB 976 caps fines at three-quarters of the amount that can be sought through the courts and could only be imposed by a vote of the commission at a publicly noticed meeting and in compliance with the state’s Administrative Procedures Act. Fines could also be challenged in court after they are imposed, according to Atkins office.

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