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Toni Atkins bill would strengthen California's coastal protections

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) today introduced legislation that will give the California Coastal Commission the power to levy penalties against those who disregard orders to stop violating the California Coastal Act.

AB 976 will bring Coastal Commission authority in line with most other state agencies tasked with enforcing environmental laws.

“California’s coastline is one of our most precious resources. It provides recreation, jobs, beautiful vistas, a buffer against tides and weather, and is home to a complex ecosystem,” Atkins said. “It is our responsibility to be good stewards of the coast by providing a workable system for enforcing legal protections against those who would defile it.”

Violations of the Coastal Act can include blocking public access to beaches, damaging environmentally sensitive habitats, or unauthorized development. Currently, the Commission can issue cease and desist orders to violators, but must pursue litigation through the California Attorney General’s office in order to enforce those orders if they are ignored, a costly and time-consuming process. AB 976 would allow the Coastal Commission to fine violators in much the same way as other environmental agencies, such as the State Water Board and the Air Resources Board. AB 976 will also ensure opportunities to challenge fines and rigorous due process protections.

"This bill addresses a long-standing gap in the Commission's ability to protect California's coastal resources and public access. It will deter Coastal Act violations, avoid litigation, save taxpayer dollars and make sure that people who comply with the Coastal Act are treated fairly," said Charles Lester, executive director of the Coastal Commission, which backs Atkins’ bill.

The California Coastal Commission was created by California voters in 1972, through their approval of Proposition 20, and later made permanent by the California Coastal Act of 1976. The Coastal Act protects beaches, wetlands, water quality, and wildlife in an area of land and water larger than the State of Rhode Island.