California's Coastal Commission was down--but now it is not necessarily out. Despite state and federal court rulings that deemed the agency unconstitutional, the California legislature is reviving it.
The commission's structure was at the heart of the constitutional issue. Eight of its 12 commissioners, who regulate construction and preservation along the coastline, were appointed by the legislature. Because they serve no fixed term but instead remain in office at the will of the legislature, the courts--both the California Supreme Court in December and a federal appellate court in January--ruled that the commission violated the separation of powers doctrine.
The decision put in doubt the commission's ability to continue regulating development along California's 1,100-mile coastline. California Governor Gray Davis, eager to have the commission in action to do battle with the Bush administration over offshore drilling, called a special session to remedy the problem. State lawmakers passed a bill to provide members appointed by the legislature to fixed four- year terms. The state attorney general is confident a fixed term will satisfy the court's concerns.
The debate over the court rulings and the legislative action widened into more general criticism of the commission, which its critics say has overstepped its original bounds. The commission was established to help local governments adopt coastal plans but has gotten involved in decisions over development of much of the state's 1.5 million acres of coastal property.
However controversial the commission may be, the legislature's fixed- term solution will either remedy the problem outright or at least win a fresh hearing in court.