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  • By Jana Zimmer

SB Authors: Jana Z. on Coastal Protection


(Editor's note: Environmental advocate and attorney Jana Zimmer is out with a well-timed new book that breaks down the complex legal, political and economic issues of protecting California’s coast - at a time when the Trump Administration has just launched a sudden, renewed attack on the state’s offshore regions and beaches.

“Navigating the California Coastal Act,” the first comprehensive, concise and practical manual to the landmark initiative and legislation that has helped protect our coast for nearly 50 years, is aimed at activists, planners, property owners, developers, attorneys, judges and students. Also timely: a chapter on the definition of development, which includes dumping material on beaches - now a big local issue, given community concerns and environmental questions about the disposal of massive amounts of mud from the Montecito disaster on local beaches.

Zimmer, former vice chair of the Coastal Commission, contributed original artwork to the volume, which also is richly illustrated with the photography of Reeve Woolpert.

Here is an excerpt outlining Jana’s long history working on coastal issues, with more details about the book and how to order a copy below).

Navigating the California Coastal Act.

The first case I filed under the Coastal Act was in the early 1980’s, as a legal aid lawyer trying to prevent the eviction of extremely low-income, elderly tenants from a single room occupancy hotel (SRO) in Venice.

A developer sought to convert the building to a luxury boutique hotel on the beach. The City’s Rent Control law had virtually no protections against eviction, and I was at a loss. A progressive realtor friend of mine casually asked whether the owner had obtained a coastal development permit for the conversion.

“A what?” I said.

I subsequently obtained a preliminary injunction preventing any evictions until that permit was obtained. Ultimately, the case was settled, with the owner granting a life estate of sorts to my clients. They were able to live out their lives in their long-term homes, at the beach, which was my goal.

The oil wars. I returned to Santa Barbara in 1986, and a position as a land use lawyer in the County Counsel’s office, where I was thrown into the oil wars, and, after the Exxon Valdez incident in 1989, the dispute over whether oil transportation by tanker could or should be allowed.

Santa Barbara was then ground zero for the development of onshore facilities to serve offshore drilling in federal and state waters. Subsequently, in private practice, I represented such clients as American Oceans Campaign, the Santa Barbara Fishers, and the League for Coastal Protection, along with local environmental groups concerned with development in sensitive habitat, local agencies, homeowner’s associations wanting to preserve open space, and property owners seeking to develop visitor-serving uses in the coastal zone.

The policies, regulations and process were always daunting, no matter what the perspective or the issue. I had always wished for- and wondered why no one had written- a book about the Coastal Act.

View from the inside. After my retirement from active law practice, I felt that my relationship to the coast, and coastal protection was not complete, so I applied for an appointment to the Coastal Commission. I served as an appointee of the Speaker of the Assembly, John Perez, from 2011-2015.

While my most recent legal work had been focused on the protection of habitat, as a primary goal of the Coastal Act, I took a walk on the beach the week before my first meeting, and saw about three hundred teenagers get off buses from the Bakersfield High School District, about three hours away. It was their graduation trip and I was stunned to hear it was their first time at the beach.

My own priorities shifted back to protecting and expanding opportunities for coastal access for all Californians.

How the book happened. When my term on the Commission was over, and encouraged by friends and colleagues, I decided to finally write the book I wished I had had access to as a lawyer, for the past thirty years.

There was still nothing at all that was reasonably accessible to non-lawyers: planners, architects, local government staff, environmentalists and the interested public to provide a coherent approach and relatively comprehensive guide to this beautifully structured, complex, and demanding law.

I hope that my work reflects a clear and straightforward portrayal of the law, the process, and the major policy issues, and how the Commission has approached them, and most importantly that it reflects a dispassionate explanation of the competing values behind the law.

I have been fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this process as an advocate, representing various interests, and as a Commissioner, and now to offer my perspective through this lens.

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