08 • 06 • 2013

The CCC: California’s State Agency for Coastal Decision-making

Written by Surfrider Legal Intern Jake Wyrick

Most controversies involving California’s coast eventually wind up before the California Coastal Commission.  The California Coastal Act created the Coastal Commission to “Protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.”  It does this by working with local governments to make and enforce regulations on projects that change the intensity of coastal resource use or public access to the coast.  Typically these projects need a permit from local governments or the Coastal Commission called a Coastal Development Permit.  Ultimately the Coastal Commission has the power deny or grant those permits, even against a city’s wishes.  An example is the beach access issue at Dana Strands.  A California appellate court recently cleared the way for the Coastal Commission to override the City of Dana Point’s whack gate obstructing public beach access in violation of the Coastal Act.  The Coastal Commission also kept the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers from burying incredible North San Diego County reef breaks under sand last month. 

Long story short, the Coastal Commission is really important.  Especially if you surf, live near, or spend time on California’s coast.  Members of the Coastal Commission may not appear in surf magazines, but without them, surf photos from Trestles may not either.

Since the Coastal Commission has so much responsibility, it’s worth knowing who sits on the Coastal Commission and how they’re get there.  Below is a list of the 15 commission seats and who currently sits in them:

1:   Representative of the public at large, selected by the Governor: Wendy Mitchell
2:   Representative of the public at large, selected by the Governor: VACANT
3:   Representative of the public at large, selected by the Senate Committee on Rules: Dayna Bochco
4:   Representative of the public at large, selected by the Senate Committee on Rules: Mary K. Shallenberger (Chair of the Commission)
5:   Representative of the public at large, selected by the Speaker of the Assembly: Jana Zimmer
6:   Representative of the public at large, selected by the Speaker of the Assembly: Mark Vargas
7: Representative from the north coast region, selected by the Governor: Martha McClure
8: Representative from the south central coast region, selected by the Governor: Brian Brennan
9: Representative from the central coast region, selected by the Speaker of the Assembly: Carole Groom
10: Representative from the San Diego coast region, selected by the Speaker of the Assembly: VACANT
11: Representative from the north central coast region, selected by the Senate Committee on Rules: Steve Kinsey (Vice-Chair of the Commission)
12: Representative from the south coast region, selected by the Senate Committee on Rules: Dr. Robert Garcia
13: The Secretary of the Resources Agency (non-voting commissioner): John Laird or Janelle Beland
14:   The Secretary of Business and Transportation (non-voting commissioner): Brian P. Kelly or Dale Jones15:   The Chairperson of the State Lands Commission (non-voting commissioner): Jennifer Lucchesi or Cy Oggins

Some commissioners have been around a while, but Mark Vargas and Dr. Robert Garcia are newcomers.  Introducing, your new commissioners:

Mark Vargas wear many hats:  He has six years of experience in the private sector working with public-works construction as a LEED Accredited Professional registered with the United States Green Building Council.  In addition, Mr. Vargas has eight years of experience overseeing construction projects.  Currently he is the President of Mission Infrastructure, a Los Angeles project management and development consulting firm.  Before he entered the private sector, Mr. Vargas served in many public sector roles, including as an aide to Congressman George Brown, a Special Assistant to Governor Gray Davis, the Southern California Director for Secretary of State Kevin Shelley, and the chair of the Los Angeles Unified School District Personnel Commission.  Mr. Vargas received his B.A. from the University of Southern California, with Honors, in Political Science and International Relations, and has completed graduate coursework at the University of California at San Diego in the area of Latin American Studies. 

Dr. Robert Garcia comes to the Coastal Commission as the Vice Mayor of Long Beach.  He was elected to that position in July 2012 after serving on the Long Beach City Council since 2009.  Dr. Garcia’s Doctorate is in Higher Education.  He teaches public policy and communications at the University of Southern California, and he has also taught communications studies at Cal State Long Beach and Long Beach City College.


Working with the Coastal Commission can be very valuable for activists in California, but knowing when and how to reach out to the Coastal Commission is crucial. The Coastal Commission holds monthly meetings in different locations along the coast.  Members of the public are free to make their views on issues known to the Coastal Commission at any time, but they can also do so by attending and speaking at these monthly meetings.  Before discussing issues on the meeting’s agenda, the Coastal Commission allows the public to speak to on issues not on the agenda.  If your local government starts denying public beach access, this is a great opportunity to make the Coastal Commission aware of it.  However, the Coastal Commission cannot act on issues not on the agenda.  State law requires that the public be notified in advance of issues that the Commission will be acting on so that the Coastal Commission’s decisions are informed by everyone’s views. 

After hearing general public comments, the Coastal Commission hears from the public on agenda items before resolving them.  While anyone can speak, Surfrider Foundation often works to coordinate comments on issues involving ongoing campaigns.  For example, in July Surfrider staff worked with activists to prepare and deliver comments on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s beach renourishment project in Solana Beach and Encinitas. 

This sort of coordination and teamwork empowers our incredible activists and builds Surfrider’s relationship with the Coastal Commission, which helps keep the victories coming in.  If you are an activist interested in working with the Coastal Commission, Surfrider encourages you to get in touch with your local chapter leaders.