The State of California has been protecting its public trust resources ever since it became a state in 1850. Now, as accelerating sea level rise threatens the coastline, the state must begin to anticipate changes to the public trust. In most locations, sea level rise is expected to cause the public trust boundary to move inland over time. This poses new challenges to the protection of public trust resources.

Guiding Principles & Action Plan

In May 2023, the Coastal Commission unanimously adopted the Public Trust Guiding Principles & Action Plan to describe how the public trust doctrine relates to the Coastal Commission’s and local governments’ work on sea level rise planning under the Coastal Act. The Public Trust Guiding Principles & Action Plan delves deeper into the policy, legal, and coordination issues raised by the challenges of protecting public trust lands, uses, and resources as sea levels rise. It also outlines a plan for next steps and research priorities to better inform the Commission, local governments, and other partners of the impacts of sea level rise on the public trust.

May 10, 2023 Adoption Hearing (item 6e).

Partnership with California State Lands Commission

In light of the challenges brought on by sea level rise, the Coastal Commission received a grant from NOAA to develop a five-year work program, with the California State Lands Commission, that aims to create a framework for protection of public trust lands and resources and to improve interagency coordination between both agencies. In 2019, the Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to enhance this coordination work.

California State Lands Commission Resources

If you have questions or would like to learn more about the Public Trust Doctrine as it relates to the Coastal Commission’s work, please contact