Ventura County officials and environmentalists said Wednesday that they were not surprised by Gov. George Deukmejian's veto of bills aimed at giving the Coastal Commission more power to crack down on illegal development.
Deukmejian, a longtime critic of the commission, shot down the bills, which were introduced by Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles). The governor said the commission "already has adequate enforcement powers against violators if used in a prudent and rational manner."
Deukmejian, who is not seeking reelection this year, released the veto messages last weekend.
One bill would have empowered the panel to impose fines and cease-and-desist orders directly against violators of the California Coastal Act. The other would have required the panel to implement a comprehensive enforcement program, in part to ferret out violations of the Coastal Act.
Without the bills' enforcement powers, the commission must still go through the courts to stop illegal coastal development.
And some environmentalists say the 40 miles of Ventura County coastline will suffer from continued abuse during the delay in getting court-ordered fines or work-stoppage orders.
"Not good," said Roma Armbrust, chairwoman of the Ormond Beach Observers. Former Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. "established the commission for the protection of the coastline, and that protection's being eroded all the time," she said.
"I'd say the possibilities for abuses on the coast are probably rampant" without the proposed laws, said Russ Baggerly, spokesman for the Environmental Coalition of Ventura County.
Baggerly cited Mugu Lagoon near Point Mugu, which he said has been filled with silt and algae by runoff from the Hill Canyon waste-water treatment plant. And he cited the Halaco aluminum-recycling operation on Perkins Street in Oxnard, which he said is leaching waste water and perhaps contaminants into sensitive wetlands.
Commission officials refused to comment on whether they are prosecuting the operators of those sites for any Coastal Act violations.
"The underlying principle for the Coastal Act was to preserve a resource for all Californians and not to allow this resource to be purchased and built upon for the private use of a few rich individuals," Baggerly said.
But Baggerly, Armbrust and state Sen Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara) predicted that the measures could have a second life once a new governor takes office in January.
Hart said Deukmejian has stated his dislike of the Coastal Commission frequently and bluntly, and "says he's going to do all he can to undermine and destroy" it.
"But with a new governor, whether" it is U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson or former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, "I think there's going to be a significant improvement," Hart said. "We'll have to redouble our efforts with a new governor, and I think if we work hard at it, something could be in place by the second half of next year."
Some said the veto makes no difference.
Madge L. Schaefer, Ventura County Board of Supervisors chairwoman, said, "What the governor said was, 'Status quo.' " And whether the stronger enforcement powers would have slowed damage to the coastline "is pure speculation," she said.
Port Hueneme Mayor Dorill B. Wright said the commission could be more effective if it worked with county or city governments to prosecute violators, or if it filed criminal complaints against violators through the attorney general's office and sought restitution for damaged coastline from the developers.
In vetoing the bills, Deukmejian repeated objections that he raised last year when he vetoed a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Ed Davis (R-Santa Clarita). The governor said he appreciates Rosenthal's efforts but that the commission should not have the sole authority to stop illegal projects and levy fines.
Jack Liebster, a commission spokesman, said the panel needs expanded enforcement authority, citing a backlog of more than 700 cases pending statewide. About 100 of those cases are in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, said James Johnson, the commission's area manager.
"The way the current law is written, . . . it doesn't provide adequate incentive for property owners to comply," Johnson said Wednesday. "With this new authority, the commission had hoped to have a deterrent for property owners who build seawalls, grade creeks and wetlands, cut hillside roads, or build additions to beachfront homes or businesses without permission. And it's unfortunate those were vetoed."