The Past, Present, and Future of California’s Coastal Act: Overcoming Division to Comprehensively Manage the Coast
The coast is a California icon. It powers a robust economy, provides the home for vibrant communities, and draws visitors from across the planet to its beautiful beaches and sparkling waters. Recognizing the importance of this unique resource, California has long been a leader in coastal protection and management. In 2016 California celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Coastal Act. This landmark legislation was enacted in 1976 to enhance public access to the shoreline, protect coastal natural resources, and balance development and conservation. Over the intervening decades, the state’s coastal management program has evolved into a complex network overseen by the Coastal Commission and myriad local, state, federal, nongovernmental, and private partners. Though the road has not always been smooth, California’s coastal management has enjoyed many collaborative successes and provided a model for other coastal states and nations. Today, however, the California coast arguably faces the greatest challenges yet. From surging seas to a growing population, changing conditions stress the state’s coastal governance systems and raise questions about the best path forward. How will California protect its coast against stronger storms and rising tides? How can the state ensure and support access to its coastline, including for underserved communities? And how can the state most effectively work with local, federal, and nongovernment partners to efficiently address these complex challenges?