Live updates: Steve Lopez on what’s been saved along the California coast — and what the bulldozers are still aiming for
The drive began at the Oregon border.
It ended five weeks later at the Mexican border.
Where I almost got arrested.
OK, that’s an exaggeration. When photographer Allen Schaben and I got to the border of Tijuana and Imperial Beach, the party was much better on the Mexican side.
Families were in the water and on the sand, a Mariachi band played, and the whole scene was rather festive compared with two people strolling quietly on the Imperial Beach side.
I thought briefly about defecting.
One man stood at the fence on the Tijuana side, so I walked up to say hello. I asked why he wasn’t swimming and he said he didn’t have a bathing suit, then he stuck his hand through the fence to shake my hand.
A Border Patrol agent sped toward me in an SUV and yelled for me to stand back from the fence.
I hesitated, because what was the big deal? But then I noticed a sign warning against contact or the passing of narcotics through the fence, etc.
So I stepped back from the fence because I didn’t know if I’d be able to write my last road trip columns from a jail cell.
I’m going to wrap up the series on Sunday, but that won’t be the end of my coverage of the California Coastal Commission on the 40th anniversary of the Coastal Act.
There’s lots to keep an eye on.
Legislation to ban private meetings between commissioners and developers could move forward later today.
A vote has been delayed on the controversial proposal for a desalination plant in Huntington Beach, a project that doesn’t make a lot of sense in my opinion but has big money backing it.
The ever-controversial Newport Banning Ranch project -- a massive hotel/housing development on the last undeveloped plot of privately owned coastal property in Southern California -- will be up for a vote in early September.
And the City Council election in Pismo Beach has gotten very interesting because Erik Howell, a councilman and coastal commissioner who ticked off Pismo residents by supporting a development that will block ocean views, now has challengers in his reelection campaign. Howell, if you’ve forgotten, accepted a $1,000 campaign donation from the domestic partner and business colleague of the lobbyist who represents the Pismo development. If he loses his council seat, he loses his Coastal Commission seat too.
So stay tuned. The Coastal Commission will have a new director soon, a new chair and at least two new commissioners, and we need to watch closely because what’s at stake is the greatest 1,100-mile coast in the world.
I wanted to see the bike, and meet its owner.
Arriving in San Diego meant our coastal trek from Oregon to Mexico was coming to an end, and it meant that it was finally time to pay a visit to Jim Mills.
Mills, a state legislator from 1962 to 1981, was Senate president pro tempore in 1972 when he decided to support Proposition 20, the coastal preservation act.
Without it, conservationists feared, coastal development would run amok, Highway 1 would be widened, and a string of nuclear power plants would spring up on some of the greatest beach fronts in the world.
But there wasn’t much money to fight Prop. 20’s foes, said Mills, who had grown up wading in La Jolla Cove and has a deep appreciation of the state’s greatest natural resource. So in September 1972, he hopped aboard his canary yellow Schwinn Super Sport and led a bike rally from San Francisco to San Diego.
The number of riders swelled at times, Mills said, and bikers were greeted each evening by locals serving plenty of carbs.
“We ate a lot of weenies and beans, and spaghetti too,” he said.
He recalled PG&E executives following the cyclists in a chauffeur-driven Cadillac, doing their own spin on Prop. 20.
The bike rally drew lots of publicity, Mills said, and whether it made the difference is anyone’s guess. But Prop. 20 won 55% of the vote and led in 1976 to the Coastal Act that to this day protects the coast for the benefit of fragile marine and land habitats and the enjoyment of everyone.
Mills was 45 when he rode down the coast, and 89 now. He greeted me and photographer Allen Schaben at his Coronado condo and said he hasn’t done any riding lately, but he’s doing a lot of writing. Mills has written several books and is working on another.
He leads us down to the basement, and there it is.
The dusty, canary yellow Schwinn that Mills rode in 1972, and for many years after the Prop. 20 campaign. He was an avid cyclist.
Mills also kept the helmet he wore in 1972.
We took the bike upstairs, where Mills put on his helmet and posed next to the bike that is a piece of California history.
The Coastal Act has done a great deal of good over the years, Mills said, and the cause is no less important now than it was when he rode south from San Francisco.
“We need to preserve the coast for the benefit of future generations,” he said, and I thank him for his contribution.
Two things will happen soon.
The last column from my 1,100 mile road trip down the California coast will be done.
And the reform bill banning private communications between California Coastal Commissioners and developers, as well as others, could finally emerge from the factory.
As I’ve been saying, Hannah-Beth Jackson’s bill sailed through the Senate and should have done the same in the Assembly, but it got pushed off into a dark corner after a very fishy report claimed that reform costs money.
The thing has come back to life, though, with amendments that aren’t as bad as the original amendments. I don’t see why we need the amendments at all, or why the wrangling has to take place behind closed doors and out of public view.
While I was thinking about that, a reader emailed me a clever idea about how to keep coastal commissioners honest -- make them strap on body cameras, like cops. I like it, and why not do the same with legislators, so we can all see what’s going on?
Having said all this, though, I’m hearing from supporters of Jackson’s bill that they think there’s actually a chance the legislation is going to be OK, once all the cooks are done tweaking the recipe.
Sausage is full of awful stuff, but just about all of it is good on the grill.
So as much fun as I’ve had telling you to ping Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, @Rendon63rd, and Appropriations Chair Lorena Gonzalez, @LorenaAD80, and ask what gives, maybe we should try another approach.
I’m told that Rendon, Gonzalez and other Assembly leaders have done some decent work rescuing this much-needed bill from the trash.
So go ahead and tweet them again, and tell them you’re encouraged, and still watching -- to the extent that’s possible -- and counting on them to do what’s necessary to get the bill to Gov. Jerry Brown, which is when the real fun will begin.
The need to clean up the way the California Coastal Commission operates was obvious.
Commissioners meet privately with developers more than with any other group, by far. They have repeatedly failed to fully explain the nature of those meetings, and have even failed to report them on occasion.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) penned a bill to ban such meetings. It cleared the Senate and bounced over to the Assembly, which nearly killed it, but finally decided this week to merely beat it to a pulp.
The toothless mess that emerged from the Assembly Appropriations Committee this week would allow private meetings to continue under certain circumstances, and now Sen. Jackson has the task of trying to put some punch back into her bill.
And here’s the irony:
We don’t know which Assembly members, or higher powers, conspired to water down Jackson’s bill because there is no transparency in the process. You can’t peer through a window into the sausage factory. These amendments were hammered out privately.
One can guess that the development lobby and labor groups did not like Jackson’s reform bill because it would get in the way of a process that gives an advantage to those who want to build on the coast. One can even guess that the Brown administration shares their view.
But we don’t know, because a bill to shine a light on important decision-making got pummeled in a dark room, and the perps left no fingerprints. See Dan Weikel’s story at latimes.com.
I’ve sent in a request for an explanation to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount). He has appointing authority for four coastal commissioners and it’d be nice to hear what he thinks about the handiwork by his Appropriations Committee.
Or you can drop a line to The Silent One @JerryBrownGov, but I’ve tried, and despite months of turmoil and controversy on the 40th anniversary of the Coastal Act he signed into law, the governor doesn’t want to be disturbed.
Summer is disappearing in my rear-view mirror.
Week Five of my trip from Oregon to Mexico will be over in just a few days, 1,100 miles after it began.
Photographer Allen Schaben is farther down the road, waiting for me in San Diego. Soon we’ll stand at the Mexican border and reflect on a deeper love of the California coast, a greater appreciation of the Coastal Act on the 40-year anniversary of protections that became law.
I’ll wish I’d had a week to spend in places where I only had an hour or two. I’ll thank the people we met along the way, and tell others we’ll take up their offer the next time through.
Californians are passionate about their coast. They’re closely watching those in public office whose job is to protect fisheries and dunes, to limit development and maximize access.
I’ve got one eye on Sacramento myself.
On legislative reforms that would serve all Californians.
On coastal commissioners, some of whom seem to have forgotten their purpose.
I’m pulling into San Diego, where the air is warm, the water blue, Mexico in the near distance.
I’m driving south on the Pacific Coast Highway and spot the sign.
The boat name of the week, it says, is “Watt A Man.”
That’s not a mistake. This is the headquarters for Duffy, which makes the electric boats that are part of the culture in the Newport harbor. Many years ago, I wrote a column about a day of hobnobbing and bar-hopping, by boat, with local residents.
I also wrote, at the time, about boat owners trying to out-do each other with clever names for the battery-powered boats. One of my favorites was “Salt ‘n Battery.”
So what are some of the newer ones?
I walk into the office, and salesman Jim Drayton says one of the best ones this summer was “Amp-ly Endowed.”
Tyler Duffield, of the Duffy family, shows me a list with a few more recent winners.
“It’s a Ohm Run.”
“Watt the Hey.”
Going back through the years, some of the better names include:
“Carry Us Ohm”
“Watt’s the Hurry.”
“Knots and Volts.”
I could go on, but why don’t you, instead?
Send me your best names. It’s not as easy as it looks, Duffield said.
“It’s usually the hardest part,” he says. “Someone comes in and orders a boat, and they get the colors and everything figured out, and the last thing to do is come up with a name before the boat leaves the factory.”
Yeah, “It’s a Duff Life” out here, where people are “Ohm on the Watter,” but “It Is Watt It Is.”
A perfectly sensible bill to clean up the way California coastal commissioners do business has been getting the waterboard treatment.
First, Santa Barbara Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson’s SB 1190 was submerged by a ludicrous report claiming it would cost too much money to prohibit private conversations between developers and commissioners.
Then it was tossed overboard and dragged like chum.
Then on Thursday, legislators pulled SB 1190 back into the boat so badly decomposed it’s barely recognizable.
As my colleague Dan Weikel reports at latimes.com, five amendments gutted the good intentions. The most egregious one allows commissioners to meet privately with developers during on-site visits.
This comes just weeks after reports that Coastal Commission Chairman Steve Kinsey met twice with developers of the massive Newport Banning Ranch development and failed to properly report those confabs.
Environmental groups, however, would not be able to have such meetings in the bill’s current form.
On my best day, I could not have come up with a more Alice in Wonderland outcome.
Details were still emerging, and it wasn’t clear which legislators were responsible for the hatchet job, or whether they caved in to political, development or union pressure, or all three.
No fingerprints on the body, in other words.
Three environmentalists I checked with were livid, and understandably so.
Stay tuned for updates on the autopsy, and don’t stop letting @JerryBrownGov know how you feel about what’s happening to coastal preservation on his watch. #SaveYourCoast
If you were a coastal conservation activist in California, with 1,100 miles of shoreline to look after, how would you even decide where to begin?
There’s always a battle somewhere, and let me give you just a couple of examples from one tiny section of the coast.
Moss Landing is in the news again this week as the Surfrider Foundation and other activists try to stop Cemex, an international sand mining company, from trucking away the beach as it has done for decades, causing erosion that has begun to set off lots of alarms.
A third-generation motel owner in this seaside town tells me he gets an offer, about every other day, from someone who wants to buy his property, bulldoze it and rebuild.
But he’s hanging on because three generations of families have been staying at his low-budget, no-frills motel since the 1960s, and he doesn’t want to end those summer vacation traditions.
Elsewhere on the California coast, motels and hotels have been bought out by chains and developers, driving up the cost of affordable family vacations.
Look for my column on the Hermosa Beach motel in the coming days. And if you know of good low-budget beach lodging, or if you’ve seen your motel go from cheap to chic, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the next two days, photographer Allen Schaben and I will be in Hermosa and Huntington Beach, reporting on the proposed desalination plant there. And, by the way, we should find out in the next day or two whether legislation banning private meetings between coastal commissioners and developers is released from legislative prison and put up for a vote in the state Assembly.
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