California Coastal Commission

Restoration of Unpermitted Development within the California Coastal Zone

Prepared by Troy Alan Doss and Susan P. Friend as a presentation to the Society for Ecological Restoration Conference, September, 1995

Abstract: Unpermitted development within the Santa Monica Mountains, a range of mountains which is partially located within the coastal zone, has had severe impacts on various sensitive coastal resources and habitats. The California Coastal Commission, which regulates all development within the coastal zone, has placed an emphasis on its enforcement program to stop unpermitted development within the coastal zone, and to require disturbed sensitive habitat areas to be restored. However, all restoration activities must receive a coastal development permit prior to the commencement of work. The California Coastal Commission has developed guidelines and conditions for permit compliance regarding habitat restoration, with the help of staff persons with restoration experience, and restoration experts outside the agency. Commission staff has also developed various regulatory techniques to ensure that restoration of damaged habitats occurs as a first priority to solving Coastal Act violations that involve unpermitted development or permit noncompliance. Furthermore, the Coastal Commission has facilitated the creation of a multi-governmental agency task force which is designed to increase the effectiveness of enforcement agencies and to protect the integrity of the resources of the Santa Monica Mountains within and outside the established coastal zone boundaries. The formation of this task forces has help to decrease the amount of unpermitted development within the Santa Monica Mountains, and has led to the restoration of significant unpermitted development sites. Furthermore, this multi-agency and regional approach to enforcement and restoration of sites through the permit process lessens the impacts of unpermitted development on a regional scale.


Development along California's 1,100 mile coast has exacted a tremendous toll on coastal resources for much of this century. In an effort to protect these resources, Proposition 20, the "Coastal Initiative," was inacted by voters in November of 1972. This was followed four years later by the California Coastal Act of 1976.

Section 30231 of the Coastal Act states:

The biological productivity and the quality of coastal waters, streams, wetlands, estuaries, and lakes appropriate to maintain optimum populations of marine organisms and for the protection of human health shall be maintained and where feasible, restored...

It is through this and similar Sections of the Coastal Act that restoration ecology has come to be used as an effective tool in the protection and enhancement of California's sensitive coastal resources. As development pressures within the California coastal zone continue today, restoration ecology is sometimes required to mitigate the impacts of legally permitted development upon sensitive environments. However, more often than not, it is usually in cases of illegal development where habitat restoration is employed. Illegal development, which requires restoration often occurs in the form of vegetation clearance and grading for roads, building pads, fire suppression and landslide remediation. This paper outlines how the California Coastal Commission has implemented the practice of habitat restoration into its enforcement program, and as a tool in its resource protection strategy.

The California Coastal Commission and the Coastal Act of 1976

In response to the mandates of the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act, the California Legislature enacted the Coastal Act of 1976 to provide for the regulation and protection of California's precious coastal resources including marine and coastal habitats, inland watersheds, beach access, trails to the coast, significant viewsheds and archaeological sites. The Coastal Commission (CCC) was established under the Coastal Act as a permanent regulatory body in charge of coastal management.

The CCC consists of twelve appointed voting members and three non-voting members. Six of the voting members are "public members" and six are local elected officials from coastal districts. The Governor, the Senate Rules Committee, and the Speaker of the Assembly each appoint four voting commissioners (two public members and two elected officials). The Secretary of the Business and Transportation Agency, and Resources Agency, and the Chairperson of the State Lands Commission serve as nonvoting members.

The CCC is mandated under the California Coastal Act of 1976 to; protect marine and land resources, including wetlands, endangered species, environmentally sensitive habitat areas, tidepools, and riparian areas; provide for maximum public access to and along the coast consistent with private rights and environmental protection; maintain coastal agricultural lands; protect the scenic coastal resources; ensure that new development provides for protection from natural hazards including, but not limited to, geologic hazards, wildland fire, flooding, wave-runup, earthquakes, etc.; and review certain federal activities for consistency with the Federally approved Coastal Management Program.

The Commission is also charged to work with each local government to develop local coastal programs (LCP) comprised of a land use plan, zoning ordinances and other implementing actions. Once a local government has its own LCP, regulatory authority over much of the coastal zone within the local government's jurisdiction is assumed by the local government. The CCC is also responsible for the review and approval of amendments to LCPs, as well as periodic review of LCPs. Furthermore, certain permitting actions under the LCP within specific geographic areas are appealable to the CCC.

The CCC's jurisdiction extends over the entire 1,100 miles of the California Coast, includes 1.5 million acres of land, and extends three miles out to sea. The boundary of the Coastal Zone varies in areas from a few hundred yards landward of the beach to several miles inland of the shore. The width of the Coastal Zone in different areas is directly related to the resources of the area, the potential for future development and the potential impacts development could have on coastal and inland resources.

The CCC has divided the coastline into five districts; North Coast, Central Coast, South Central Coast, South Coast and San Diego. The primary focus of this paper shall be restoration projects located in the South Central Coast District area, which includes Santa Barbara County, Ventura County, and a section of western Los Angeles County. It is in western Los Angeles County, specifically the Santa Monica Mountains, where most of the Commission's enforcement actions occur as the CCC remains the primary permitting agency in this region.

Santa Monica Mountains

The CCC's jurisdiction along the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains coastline runs approximately twenty-seven miles from Topanga Canyon Boulevard, at the Los Angeles City/Los Angeles County Line to the Los Angeles/Ventura County Line. The coastal zone of the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains region includes the entire City of Malibu and extends inland from the coast approximately five miles to include a large area of unincorporated Los Angeles County. This unincorporated area includes portions of the Santa Monica Mountains. The ridge line of the Santa Monica mountains extends forty-six miles from Point Mugu in Ventura County to Griffith Park in Burbank; Los Angeles County.

The Santa Monica Mountains rim the northwest section of the Santa Monica Bay. This bay is one of the largest in California, extending from the Palos Verdes Peninsula to Point Dume in Malibu, encompassing 266 square miles of open ocean and covering nearly 50 miles of coastline. The bay's ecosystem's include various habitats from intertidal zones, and shallow waters to open deep water habitats. The bay serves as an important habitat for several endangered species including the California Least Tern, the Brown Pelican and the Gray Whale. The entire inland watershed for the Bay is nearly 300 miles. The Santa Monica Mountains are an important part of the watershed for the Santa Monica Bay.

Because of the sensitive and numerous resources in the Santa Monica Mountains, in 1978, the U.S. Congress passed a law creating the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. The Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is unique within the National Park System in that it is one of only five places in the world exhibiting a Mediterranean ecosystem. Public Law 95-625 charges the National Park Service with the management of the Santa Monica Mountains in a manner that will preserve and enhance the scenic, historic, and natural value of the Santa Monica Mountains while providing both recreational and educational opportunities. Unlike most National Parks, it was never Congress' intent to have the entire Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area under Federal ownership; park land is therefore interspersed among privately owned lands. The National Park Service owns over 18,000 acres of the 150,000 acre mountains. Total ownership by Federal, State and Local parks, comprises approximately 62,000 acres, or 41% of the entire Santa Monica Mountains. And of the 150,000 acres comprising the Santa Monica Mountains, over 87,000 acres, are located within the coastal zone.

Significant Ecological Areas

The Santa Monica Mountains is a diverse region with a mix of residential and cultural areas within a larger biological ecosystem. The Santa Monica Mountains support a number of biomes including chaparral & coastal sage scrub, riparian & oak woodlands and estuaries and sand dunes. There are at least seven listed endangered animal and plant species and an additional fifty species which are candidates for federal listing as endangered or threatened species.

Fourteen of Los Angeles County's recognized significant ecological areas (SEAs) are within the Santa Monica Mountains. These SEAs were designated by Los Angeles County in the early 1970's in response to the State Legislature's mandate that every County and City prepare and adopt a local open space plan for long term preservation and conservation of natural resources. The areas designated as SEAs by Los Angeles County include rare, endangered, and threatened plant and animal species; areas with plant and animal species endemic to Southern California or Los Angeles; areas used in concentrated numbers by animal species for breeding, feeding, resting, or migration; areas of scientific interest due to geographical limitations or unusual ecological variations; areas important for game habitat or fisheries; and areas which would provide for the preservation of undisturbed examples of the natural biotic community in Los Angeles County.

In addition to SEAs, the CCC, when certifying the land use plan for the County of Los Angeles, recognized that SEAs and other areas, such as riparian corridors, required additional protection from development. These areas, called Environmentally Sensitive Habitat Areas (ESHAs) include many of the riparian corridors, and large tracts of watersheds, and wildlife corridors. Development in these areas is restricted to preserve their high habitat value.

Development Pressures

Offering coastal views, various recreational uses, wilderness values, and a rural environment in close proximity to the second largest metropolitan area in the nation; the beaches of Malibu and the Santa Monica Mountains are a popular place to visit and live. In addition to hosting a variety of ecosystems, with numerous endemic plants and animals, over 73,000 Angelenos reside in the mountains. A large majority of the remaining nine million people of the Los Angeles basin escape the urban environment to hike, bike, partake in equestrian sports, bird watch, surf, windsail, sun-bath and camp in the Santa Monica Mountains. It is this mixture of amenities and proximity which threatens many of the sensitive habitat areas of the Santa Monica Mountains, and in some cases has created islands of habitat surrounded by a sea of development.

In order to avoid adverse impacts on the resources of the Santa Monica Mountains, the CCC closely regulates all development within the coastal zone. The approval of development in this region is often conditional upon the protection of open space areas, the dedication of trails, protection of wildlife corridors and habitat, prevention of excessive fencing, and landscaping which uses primarily native, non-invasive, vegetation. The CCC also addresses impacts associated with point and non-point source pollution and mitigates these impacts through the crafting of special conditions attached to coastal development permits (CDPs). Finally, the CCC must also ensure that new development does not adversely impact coastal access, visual or archaeological resources, and that development sites are geologically stable.

Enforcement Pressures

Development in the Malibu/Santa Monica Mountain region is regulated by the CCC because the City of Malibu and County of Los Angeles do not have certified LCPs. In absence of a certified LCP the standard of review for development is the Coastal Act. Therefore, the CCC is responsible for pursuing violations of the Coastal Act, and enforcing the policies set forth by the Coastal Act. To complicate matters the City of Malibu and County of Los Angeles have their own local land use and zoning responsibilities which overlap the CCC's enforcement program. In certified LCP areas, most coastal zone enforcement matters are resolved by the local government. The CCC acts as a secondary enforcement power, the local government is the lead agency in the resolution of unpermitted developments.

As development pressures have increased in Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains region, so have violations of the Coastal Act and other local government land use polices. The majority of enforcement cases within the California coastal zone occur within Malibu/Santa Monica Mountains region. Enforcement cases range from minor cases with little resource damage such as minor additions to existing residences, the installation of fencing, the construction of unpermitted structures, vegetation clearance, and lot line adjustments to major cases with significant to irreparable resource damage such as grading, dumping, the installation of culverts, other streambed alterations, illegal subdivisions of land, unpermitted public works projects, and illegal seawalls.

On average, the South Central District opens approximately sixty-five violation cases a year. However, this is a significant drop from five years ago as in the 1980s over a hundred cases a year were opened on average. Currently the South Central District is responsible for a total of eighty-three cases within the Malibu area alone. An additional forty-five cases are also being pursued by the CCC at the Statewide level and by the State Attorney General's office.

Early Coastal Zone Enforcement History & Restoration Ecology

Prior to 1981, the CCC did not have a formal statewide enforcement program to deal with unpermitted development. Enforcement was done on a case by case basis, with many cases going straight to litigation with no intermediate attempts at site restoration. There was little coordination between Commission districts on approaches and techniques regarding site restoration or the resolution of violations.

Many violations occurred out of ignorance of the CCC permitting requirements, knowingly avoiding permit requirements, or by exceeding the parameters of a CCC permit. In many cases there appeared to be a lack of concern regarding Coastal Act policies by those who desired to develop within the coastal zone. As a result many grading and vegetation clearance violations occurred because property owners did not complete the permit review process prior to commencement of development. Often roads and pads were developed involving massive quantities of grading and vegetation clearance with no concern for erosion control, or resource protection.

In late 1981, the Commission implemented a statewide permit enforcement program. This program centralized enforcement to the Statewide Enforcement Unit and instituted common procedures for all district offices. However, budget cuts and limited staffing made enforcement a low priority in many district offices, including the South Central Coast District. The number of violations that occurred often exceeded the time available to pursue such cases. Enforcement actions often took too long and resulted in an inability to pursue site restoration and fines as the legal statute of limitations was often exceeded. Furthermore, when site restoration was pursued it was frequently unsuccessful because of inadequate design and monitoring procedures.

In addition, knowledge of restoration ecology and techniques was limited among CCC staff since restoration ecology was a growing and relatively unknown field at that time. CCC staff did not have sufficient training in restoration and the Commission did not have on-staff ecologists, biologists, landscape architects or others with knowledge or experience in habitat restoration. Many times, after-the fact grading projects were approved with only one requirement: revegetation or landscaping. The typical revegetation condition placed on these permits simply required the re-establishment of native vegetation such that 90% coverage of the site was assured within 90 days. This condition was standard without regard for slope aspect, slope steepness, or other associated site conditions. There was no differentiation between riparian, coastal sage scrub, or oak woodland restoration and the landscaping of a residence.

Violations during this period were often resolved with fines rather than site restoration. Unpermitted grading which did not comply with the of the Coastal Act was rarely returned to a pre-violation, pre-development condition. Furthermore, violations of the Coastal Act were often discovered long after development had occurred making it difficult to assess the impacts to the habitat unless previous records were available. Many grading violations consisted of steep cuts on unstable ground making restoration of the original topography nearly impossible. In other cases, restoration was required in extremely arid areas within rocky terrain. Under these circumstances, it was typical for a violator to use the excuse that the site could not be returned to resemble the pre-grading contours and that revegetation would be too costly and possibly unsuccessful regardless of the costs. When restoration was required, submitted plans were often inadequate and not prepared by a qualified professional. Monitoring and maintenance was not followed and thus these projects often had unsuccessful results.

Enforcement Changes

Beginning in the late 1980's the CCC put an emphasis on controlling unpermitted development, restoring sites to their pre-violation condition, and seeking compliance with permits issued. This emphasis has led to a great number of changes in how the enforcement department is run, how restoration occurs and how government agencies within the Santa Monica Mountains region work together. And, as result of this emphasis on enforcement, the number of violations has decreased as has the severity of violation cases.

In 1990, the CCC placed new emphasis on enforcement in the Santa Monica Mountains. The first step taken was to hire an employee specifically for enforcement within the district. Later in 1993, the CCC received a grant by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State Water Resources Control Board which funded another enforcement position. Currently there are two employees in the South Central Coast District that concentrate the majority of their work time on enforcement; one a biologist, the other a landscape architect. This is a unique situation for a district office of the CCC.

Support from the California legislature and Governor's office has added to the success of the Commission's enforcement program since 1990. In 1992, the CCC was granted cease and desist powers. These powers allow the CCC to issue a cease and desist order to immediately stop unpermitted actions causing significant resource damage. The cease and desist ability also allows the CCC to order restoration of sites. The following year, a second law was passed which increased the penalty amounts the CCC could seek for unpermitted development. The maximum penalty is now $30,000 for resource damage; a violation of a knowing and intentional nature can be fined up to $15,000 a day for each day the violation exists.

As a result of these new laws, the CCC has been successful in persuading violators to obtain permits and restore sites. The increase in the CCC's powers has resulted in less necessity to implement such actions. The general knowledge that the CCC has the authority to cease and desist action and fine heavily in and of itself has been a deterrent for property owners.

Revisions to the mechanics of the enforcement program began late in 1991 with new procedures for "fast tracking" violations to enable enforcement staff to handle new cases more efficiently and prepare cases for litigation with the Attorney General's office sooner if no compliance with the Coastal Act occurred. It also included prioritizing cases, using a determination of whether a case was "significant" requiring immediate and constant work to seek compliance and could initiate the cease and deist actions, or "non-significant" which would not warrant, in most cases, a cease and desist order. Major cases included cases with irreparable or on-going resource damage such as extensive grading violations, streamed alteration, shoreline protective devices, or blockage of public access. Minor, or less significant cases would include minor grading with little to no resource damage and projects that can be restored. These would include minor grading projects or minor improvements on developed lots, for example.

Early in 1990, the CCC revised the procedure for after-the-fact permits. The issuance of an after-the-fact permit allows a property owner to keep the unpermitted development on site, and resolve the violation. This process requires the property owner to apply for the development as-built; however, so as not to bias, in either direction, the CCC's final decision it is reviewed by the staff and the CCC as if it has not yet occurred. Sometimes these after-the-fact projects are approved as built. Other times the projects are modified with special conditions.

In addition, the CCC also revised their fee schedule requiring fees for after-the fact permits to be doubled. Restoration projects do not face a doubling of the filing fee. As such, the doubling of fees has been a tool used to persuade violators to restore a site rather than apply for the after-the-fact permit of an unapprovable project.

When projects can not be approved and the applicant does not wish to change the project, the CCC now has the authority to issue a restoration order. The CCC must first find that the development occurred without a coastal development permit, that the development is inconsistent with the Chapter Three policies of the Coastal Act, and that the development is causing continued resource damage. This is usually done through the denial of an application to retain an unpermitted development. Then the CCC can approve a restoration order prepared by staff which directs the violator to restore the site to its pre-violation condition.

All these changes have led to a greater resolution of violations through restoration of sites and after-the-fact permits. Perhaps the most significant steps taken by the CCC involves the creation of a multi-governmental task force whose purpose is to coordinate enforcement efforts to protect the integrity of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Santa Monica Mountains Enforcement Task Force

The Santa Monica Mountains Enforcement Task Force (SMMETF) was created in partnership with the Third District of Los Angeles Supervisor, Dean Dana. Today the SMMETF includes twenty-six Federal, State and Local government agencies responsible for land-use regulation, law enforcement, litigation and legislation. Member agencies include the CCC, the City of Malibu and the County of Los Angeles' Regional Planning, Public Works and Agriculture departments, and the District Attorney and Sheriff's Department. Other agencies include the State Attorney General's Office, California Department of Parks and Recreation, California Department of Fish And Game and the National Park Service.

The SMMETF has given priority to cases involving extensive resource damage and "repeat offenders." The purpose of the SMMETF is to coordinate enforcement efforts in order to reach quicker resolution of violation cases and to better ensure site restoration. The SMMETF has completed a number of workshops designed to increase the knowledge of SMMETF members of the regulatory powers and authority of other agencies, and to share the knowledge of each agency's expertise.

The SMMETF has been successful since its inception in reducing the severity of violations; stopping unpermitted development quickly; and by obtaining site restoration through coordinated enforcement and, when necessary, litigation efforts. A better understanding and coordination among government employees has completely ended the practice of violators playing one agency against the other. Furthermore, the proactive steps taken by the SMMETF in public education have reduced the overall number of violations in the Malibu/Santa Monica region. Moreover, with coordinated enforcement efforts, violations are stopped earlier causing less resource damage and, in many cases, making near complete site restoration feasible. As a result of the SMMETF there has been an increase in the effectiveness and efficiency of the enforcement programs of all member agencies, including the CCC.

Restoration Ecology and Coastal Act Violations

There are, in a sense, only two ways to resolve a violation action: either get an after-the-fact permit for the unpermitted development or remove the unpermitted development altogether. In the latter case, it should be noted that a coastal development permit is required as the removal of the unpermitted development and the restoration of the site are considered development as defined by the Coastal Act. In the former case site restoration would be required if the development included adverse impacts which need to be mitigated. With cases involving grading, vegetation clearance or streambed alteration, the project is usually not approvable and therefore full site restoration is required.

As previously mentioned, the field of restoration ecology was not well understood or utilized as a tool by the CCC until recently. In several cases successful site restoration has occurred despite permit requirements directing applicants to, in effect, do the wrong thing. Previous permit conditions requiring 90% coverage in 90 days were aimed at mitigating potential erosion problems, but would be difficult to achieve with native materials without extensive planting of container stock or without additional external inputs not normally associated with restoration projects. Basically, this condition resulted in what can only be considered landscaping.

Fortunately, several of the restoration specialists used during these earlier times, such as Klaus Radtke and others, went beyond the scope of the conditions imposed upon them. Their work has resulted, in several cases, with better than average results and in some cases with near pre-development site restoration. However, many sites never stood a chance at being restored properly even though the damage was not significant, because the plans prepared for restoration were not adequate, and the staff reviewing the plans were not trained or experienced in the review of restoration plans with technical specifications. Furthermore, the conditions requiring site restoration were so loose that a landscape designer or contractor could prepare a site plan with a basic seed/plant palette, and this would satisfy the initial requirement of preparing "restoration plans." So long as growth was detected on site following planting, the restoration was often considered completed.

Included in the changes the CCC has made to its enforcement program in the last five years, the Commission's approach to restoration ecology has become a primary focus in violation resolution, and thus a higher degree of quality and success of site restoration has been demanded. The first step involved the rewriting of all special conditions placed upon permits related to site restoration. This became easier as the techniques and methods of restoration ecology became more accessible through published reports, and as staff with experience in habitat restoration were hired by the CCC. Training by outside agency experts in the field of restoration ecology has enhanced staff's knowledge in the review of restoration plans, technical specifications, monitoring reports, and in differentiating the difference between site restoration versus site revegetation.

Habitat Restoration & Monitoring Program

Whereas previously one simple landscape condition was typically used in all restoration cases, in 1994 a new condition was drafted as a shell for most permits involved with restoration ecology. This condition, drafted by CCC staff under the guidance of restoration specialist Ted St. John, is included in all CDPs in the South Central Coast District for site restoration. This includes CDPs for to return a violation site to its pre-development condition, as well as permanent developments which may have a temporary adverse impacts upon sensitive coastal resources, such as public works projects.

This condition, referred to as the Habitat Restoration and Monitoring Program, requires the submittal, for the review and approval of the CCC; 1) a biologic survey of the subject site, or adjacent sites if development has already occurred; 2) a preliminary restoration program; 3) technical specifications; and 4) a monitoring program, which typically extends for five years.

The preliminary biological survey is required to include a description of the site, the native habitat, climate, and a list of all existing trees, shrubs, and herbs associated with the site. The survey must include photographs of the site taken from predesignated locations (annotated to a copy of the site plans) and used for future reference during the restoration and monitoring. As Coast Live Oaks, California Sycamores, Cottonwoods, Alders, and Southern California Black Walnuts are trees of some significance in the Santa Monica Mountains, these trees are to be noted in all surveys regardless of caliper size, or height.

A preliminary restoration plan is required as a second phase of this program requiring the applicant to submit a plan which clearly outlines the objectives of the restoration program and the approach to be used. The plan is required to include a description of the impacts caused from the development, provide a frame work for mitigating these impacts, and discuss the methods and techniques to be used during site restoration.

Technical specifications are to be submitted as a third phase of this program. The specifications are required to be designed and implemented in such a manner that reflects the findings of the biological survey, and follows the goals outlined in the approved preliminary restoration plan. These specifications shall also provide the framework for the installation of the restoration project, and include a schedule of activities, a final list of material to be used, and a finalized description of the methods and techniques to be used during the implementation of the plan. It is generally recommended that materials used to restore a site are of local origin, such as seeds, cuttings, salvaged plants, micro-organisms, and topsoil originating from the subject site. Specifications shall also be included for maintenance criteria, such as weeding, and for re-planting or other mid-program corrections.

Finally, a monitoring program is required to follow installation for a period typically extending over a five year period. This monitoring program checks for compliance with the guidelines and performance standards listed in the biological survey and technical specifications. It is generally recommended that the monitoring of the site be conducted by a restoration specialist not connected with the development or installation of the restoration plans. However, this is difficult to ensure due to the associated costs unless the site involves a serious violation.

It should be noted that development of the restoration program may be required in conjunction with other government agencies such as the California Department of Fish and Game, the California Department of Parks and Recreation, or the National Park Service depending upon the location of the violation, or the resources impacted. Furthermore, since this condition has only been in use for the last year and a half, it is not yet possible to measure the success of recent restoration projects for a comparison with restoration projects done without this program. However, the caliber and level of specificity of reports submitted has improved significantly, and it is believed this shall greatly improve the success and quality of permitted restoration sites within the coastal zone.

Restoration Ecology as Mitigation for Coastal Zone Development

Restoration ecology is often used as a means to mitigate impacts resulting from legal permitted development within the coastal zone. Generally, development is only permitted by the CCC if the impacts upon sensitive resources can be reduced or eliminated altogether. However, the CCC often must approve large public works projects involving massive land form alteration, streambed alteration, and temporary site disturbance regardless of the sensitivity of the area.

In November of 1993, the Old Topanga Firestorm burned over 18,000 acres of watershed in the Santa Monica Mountains. Although most of the acreage lost involved coastal sage scrub, chaparral, coast live oak woodland, and coastal riparian woodland habitat, over 400 single family residents were also damaged or destroyed during the blaze, and an additional 3,500 homes were directly threaten. To mitigate the potential impacts of debris flows, flooding, and landslides in the post fire environment, local public work agencies began a massive campaign involving the upgrading of culverts, the installation of debris racks, and the dredging of natural channels in anticipation of the winter seasons to come. When the first rains fell, they caused over two million dollars in damage on average for each two year storm event. Furthermore, as much of the geology of the Santa Monica Mountains is young and unstable, the most recent rains which were extremely heavy reactivated many of the regional landslides of the area, closing major access roads and threatening the destruction of homes rebuilt following the 1993 fires.

Due to the emergency nature of the work proposed by local public work agencies, every effort has been made to expedite the permitting process thus allowing the work to be done in a timely manner. In some cases there has been enough time prior to development for the Public Works agencies to conduct a biological survey of the proposed development site and to submit preliminary restoration plans for review and approval by the CCC. However, many times the work is conducted during a time of emergency, and therefore no mitigation or restoration plans are proposed until after the work occurs. When development must be conducted prior to CCC notification or review, an "Emergency" permit is issued allowing the applicant to legally conduct development during the time of emergency without the submittal of restoration plans and without the review by CCC staff for consistency with the Chapter Three policies of the Coastal Act. Typically the only condition placed upon an emergency permit requires that the applicant submit an application within sixty days following the issuance of the emergency permit to allow the CCC to review the project.

When these public works projects are permitted as "Emergencies," and no initial biological survey of the site is prepared, it becomes difficult to later assess the extent of impacts upon natural resources because the damage is already done. However, site restoration is still required in most cases. Yet, unlike violation cases where the subject site is required to be restored as close as possible to its predevelopment condition, including topography; in public works projects where the approved development includes the permanent placement of a culvert or other structure, restoration of the locally established vegetative matrix is usually the only requirement in terms of restoration.

It is through public works projects that the approach of the CCC to restoration ecology first began to change, as CCC staff recognized that not only did the impacts associated with these types of projects far exceed those associated with violation cases, they typically occurred in more sensitive environments, such as stream courses. To date, the results of implementation of the restoration program on public works projects is inconclusive.

In many cases there has not been enough time available, prior to the commencement of work, for the submittal of biological surveys and preliminary restoration plans. Once the work is completed, the public works agencies have had little incentive to supply the required biological survey or restoration plans. Furthermore, because of a general lack of ecological knowledge by the public works agencies, the agencies are not willing to restore sites. Therefore part of the task of the CCC has been educating them about the associated ecological processes, and informing them how their development has impacted these resources and will continue to have an impact unless restoration occurs.


The California Coastal Commission has made significant changes to its enforcement program over the last several years. Centralization of our efforts, coordination with local government, development of a region task force, legislative support, and the updating of the CCC's approach and background in restoration ecology have all helped to decreased the extent of resource impacts along the California coast. Moreover, some of these changes, such as the Santa Monica Mountains Enforcement Task Force, have received national recognition for their success in combating enforcement and seeking restoration of sites within the Coastal Zone.

Although these changes have not stopped violation cases from occurring, the increase in knowledge and enforcement powers have made site restoration more feasible and successful. Furthermore, as a result of these changes there has been a significant decrease in the number of cases and the severity of violations that occur.

Changes in the enforcement program which have lead to a reduction in enforcement matters have also led to a decrease in state expenses. With cooperation from property owners, resolution of enforcement matters can be accomplished without litigation and expensive court and attorney costs. With additional staff specifically for enforcement, the remaining planners have more time to concentrate on development legally permitted projects and other more proactive regulatory programs. Enforcement is no longer required to be done by all staff. With consistency and coordination, there is less error, less stress, and the program runs more effectively.

The increase in staff and staff's knowledge regarding restoration has put the CCC in a position in which the CCC can better negotiate settlements, and ensure proper site restoration. The changes made to permit conditions regarding site restoration provide clear guidance for property owners, and the consultants representing them, clarifying the goals of each restoration project. With these changes, restoration will result in an enhancement of the habitat and thus the resource value of the Santa Monica Mountains.

Most important, the changes in the enforcement program and restoration efforts have allowed the CCC to follow its mission to protect the habitat and provide public access. Restoration has enhanced the habitat values; public awareness has decreased the number of violations, and changes in the enforcement and restoration program have resulted in habitat enhancement.

The authors work at California Coastal Commission, South Central District, 89 South California Street, Suite 200, Ventura, California 93001, (805) 641-0142.

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