The Coastal Commission was created in the 1970s after the people of California became so concerned about losing their world-famous coast to unchecked development that they passed a ballot initiative to create the agency. What many people don’t know is that the Coastal Act of 1976 also protected affordable housing. That’s right. The original law afforded as much protection for moderate- and lower-income housing as it now does for wetlands, habitat and scenic views. In the first five years of the program, the commission successfully required the construction of over 5,000 affordable, deed-restricted, owner-occupancy and rental units in high-priced areas such as Laguna Nigel, San Clemente and Dana Point. It also collected about $2 million in in-lieu fees for additional housing opportunities throughout the state. These units were built right alongside the market rate units in most instances, outwardly indistinguishable from the full-price versions.
So what happened?
Local governments objected to the lost property tax revenues. Realtors resented their diminished commissions. So in 1981, a coalition of anti-housing interests got behind a bill by state Sen. Henry Mello that stripped the housing polices out of the Coastal Act. It also allowed any developer who had not yet completed a coastal housing project to demand the commission remove the affordable requirements from the permit. And it prohibited the commission from requiring local governments to include affordable housing in their Local Coastal Plans. Affordable housing ground to a halt in the coastal zone, and thousands of units slated to break ground never materialized.

Read More