California lawmakers have been busy over the last decade trying to make it easier to build homes across a housing-strapped state. But there’s an 840-mile-long exception. In an undulating band that generally runs 1,000 yards from the shoreline, the 12 members of the California Coastal Commission have the final say over what gets built, where and how.
The tension between the state’s aggressive housing goals and its longstanding commitment to coastal preservation is particularly acute in Southern California, where the latest round of state housing goals shifted the bulk of the region’s planned growth from inland communities — the traditional, sprawling outlets for pent up housing demand — to coastal ones. That includes cities like Santa Monica, Malibu, Los Angeles, Encinitas and San Diego, all of which fall at least in part, if not entirely, within the coastal zone.
The commission’s supporters regularly stress that it has never rejected a proposed affordable housing project.
But for many developers — including those who build deed-restricted units for lower-income residents — the possibility of years of delay with no certain outcome has created a “chilling effect,” said Jeannette Temple, a San Diego land use consultant.
“If you’re an affordable housing developer, you’re already operating on the margins, so most of the time my clients, and people my clients know, don’t even look in the coastal zone,” she said. “In my opinion it’s just another kind of redlining.”