Tidal marsh or ‘fake habitat’? California environmental project draws criticism for failing to protect the coast
California’s iconic coastal oaks are a valuable habitat for birds that are in serious trouble. The oaks are the only stand of trees in this part of the coast, and the entire ecosystem depends heavily on the habitat they provide. (Photo courtesy of the California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento Public Libraries)
California’s iconic coast has some of the most valuable and imperiled environmental resources in the world. So it’s no wonder that the state’s environmental watchdog agency — the California Department of Water Resources — is so worried about how they’re being used.
The agency’s chief deputy director, Dave Smith, took a tour of the coastline this week to give environmentalists, scientists and others their first chance to see some of the areas, from Big Sur to La Jolla, that are being considered for development as a new California Coastal Reserve. The proposed reserve contains 2,500 square miles of coastal land — about the size of Washington, D.C., — set aside for possible environmental protection.
The agency’s goal, Smith told a group of about a dozen people during a tour of Pacifica, was to make the remaining coastal land more accessible to developers through new restrictions on development and new limits on development in the reserve.
As a result, Smith said, the agency is considering what could be called fake habitat — the area where development would be banned, but where development has occurred in the past and could still happen.
“That area is not protected by the National Marine Sanctuaries Act,” Smith said earlier this year, according to a copy of his presentation on the Coast Pilot website. “It’s not protected by any law except for state law.”
He said the California Coastal Commission would have to authorize development in the area under consideration, which would be up to the state Legislature and not the commission. He added that any new developments there would be done with a “robust, multi-agency permitting process” to ensure that the land is protected.
“The coastal Commission can be relied on to do what it’s required to do,” Smith said.
But the agency’s chief deputy director, Dave Smith, took a tour of the coastline this week to give environmentalists, scientists and others their first chance to see some of the areas, from Big Sur to La Jolla, that are being considered for development as a new California Coastal Reserve