Coast Decommissioned, It’s Sand Aid Time


My biggest regret about 2002 is that I let the ball drop on a project that was near and dear to my heart. But I see it’s time to resurrect Sand Aid, the concert to save the California coast.

As you might recall, several bands had kindly offered their services so we could force David Geffen and other beach barons to open their gates and let us cake eaters have a swim or even just a stroll at the water’s edge. But now the need for a fund-raising concert is greater, and the cause more noble.

The California Coastal Commission, which regulates beach development and public access, is in danger of being run out of business thanks to a lawsuit by a property rights lawyer. A state appeals court ruled, in essence, that legislators have too much power over the 12-member commission and can unduly influence its decisions.


Allow me to translate.

The California coastline, which has no match in the entire country, is one step closer to being plundered even further by private interests. Barring reversal by a higher court or legislative intervention, you can look for more “Keep Out” signs, more oil drilling and more view-obstructing, pollution-spewing development.

It’s not the undue influence of legislators that we need to fear. It’s the undue influence of lobbyists, moguls and other sharks who treat the coast as their private playground.

I grew up going to Northern California beaches every summer, and I’ve traveled every inch of the state’s coastline, which is one of the natural wonders of the world. As far back as I can remember, someone was always doing his honest best to screw it up, whether it was a smooth-talking swindler or an Olympic-caliber moron.

Tacky builders. Crooked pols. Oil company lawyers. You know who you are.

Thanks to their good work, statewide sprawl and overpopulation in general, the stretch from Ventura to the Mexican border has been called the national epicenter of beach pollution.

Last summer, Orange County sewage treatment officials practically had to have a gun to their heads before agreeing it might not be a good idea -- given the alarming number of beach closures -- to continue using the ocean as a public toilet.

Having said all that, the Coastal Commission isn’t exactly a model of integrity or efficiency. In its time, it’s had patronage hacks and other varieties of slobbering yes-men who answered to the legislators and governors who appointed them.

That means that if you’re, say, David Geffen or another high roller, and you want approval from the commission to construct your own little dream world on the beach, you might have an edge if you’ve made a contribution to a politician or two.

But if the commission is brought down, dozens of cities and counties could take back the coastal development authority they had prior to 1972, and that could be an even bigger disaster. Not just because of how easily these bumpkins will get rolled by lobbyists and other heavies, but because every stretch of coast will be subject to different regulations.

“If you let the cities go back to what they were doing before, there won’t be any coast left,” says Ellen Stern Harris, who 30 years ago co-authored the initiative that ultimately created the Coastal Commission.

There’s been such overdevelopment of the coast before and since, she says she’s praying for a tsunami.

“I want a fresh start,” says the Beverly Hills resident.

Harris said she’s hoping the Legislature saves the day. One possible way to negate this week’s court ruling, she said, would be for legislators to appoint coastal commissioners to fixed terms, rather than having them serve at their pleasure. In theory, that would make the commissioners less beholden.

By the way, the lawsuit that scored the big victory this week was filed by a group that asked the Coastal Commission for a permit and was turned down. A permit for what? you ask.

How about an artificial reef off Newport Beach made out of used tires, plastic jugs and PVC pipe. What, they couldn’t get old sneakers, smashed cars and beer cans?

The reef was supposed to promote marine life, and my guess is Mr. Limpet was chief engineer.

If we’re going to keep what’s ours, my friends, and preserve what’s left of America’s most spectacular coast, we’ll need a sawbuck or two for the good fight. Stay tuned to this corner for updates on Sand Aid 2003.

This sand is your sand, this sand is my sand.


Steve Lopez writes Sunday, Wednesday and Friday. Reach him at