Decommissioning California's Coastal Tyranny

By Greenhut, Steven | Ideas on Liberty, April 2003 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Decommissioning California's Coastal Tyranny


Greenhut, Steven, Ideas on Liberty


A California Superior Court ruling a year ago was an incredible bombshell that should have had defenders of private property rights rejoicing and California environmentalists gnashing their teeth. Yet the decision, declaring unconstitutional the California Coastal Commission, received surprisingly little media coverage and sparked only muted celebration and outrage at the time.

The decision was treated as a bizarre quirk that would no doubt be overturned at the appellate court. The reaction shows just how far we've gone down the road of accepting as permanent even the most noxious government agencies.

To those unfamiliar with it, the Coastal Commission is California's state agency that oversees the development of property along the coast, from the Oregon to Mexico border. Its authority over property, private and public, extends from three miles out to sea to as much as five miles inland, although in certain areas its authority only goes a few hundred feet east of the shoreline.

Within these Rhode Island-sized boundaries, including some of California's most sought-after and populated areas, the commission has near-dictatorial powers to approve, reject, or reform any development proposal. Created by initiative in 1972 and affirmed by legislative edict four years later, the commission has been as controversial as one would expect from a government agency with unchecked power. Those who share its values, goals, and messianic sense of purpose adore it and see it as a template for "guiding" development throughout the state. Those who cherish property rights and freedom despise it, as do many local government officials frustrated by its ability to trump local decisions. (Even "liberal" Malibu residents battled the commission after it trumped a local plan for regulating the coast in order to impose one of its own liking.)

Yet the Sacramento Superior Court's ruling-based mainly on separation-of-powers issues-was largely shrugged off. Then a funny thing happened. Last December the California Court of Appeal in the Sacramento district upheld the decision. Yes, the California Coastal Commission is unconstitutional, and many people now believe the decision will withstand the likely appeal to the state's supreme court.

The courts ruled that the makeup of the commission formed the heart of its constitutional problem. It has 12 members, with four selected by the governor, four by the speaker of the Assembly, and four from the Senate Rules Committee. All members can be removed for any reason at any time by those who appointed them.

"The flaw is that the unfettered power to remove the majority of the commission's voting members, and to replace them with others, if they act in a manner disfavored by the Senate Committee on Rules and the Speaker of the Assembly makes those commission members subservient to the Legislature," the appellate court ruled. "In a practical sense, this unrestrained power to replace a majority of the commission's voting members, and the presumed desire of those members to avoid being removed from their positions, allows the legislative branch not only to declare the law but also to control the commission's execution of the law and exercise of its quasi-judicial powers."

Environmentalists and legislature Democrats who are enamored with the commission can't understand what the fuss is about. They view the makeup of the commission as a clever means to share powers among different branches of government, and claim the court's ruling is an easily fixed, technical one.

But that "technical" problem goes to the heart of the American system of government. Legislative branches of government write laws, executive branches enforce them, and judicial branches adjudicate disagreements. When one agency has all three functions it is tyrannical. That was the view of America's founders, if not the current California Legislature.

If nothing else, the Coastal Commission is a tyrannical agency.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Decommissioning California's Coastal Tyranny
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?