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Liz Fuchs, AICP
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Santa Monica Mountains/Malibu ReCAP: Report Summary

The Santa Monica Mountains/Malibu ReCAP region extends from the edge of the Calleguas Creek watershed in Ventura County to the City of Los Angeles boundary, inland to the coastal zone boundary. The analysis focused on evaluating the effectiveness of the Coastal Management Program between 1978-1996 in three issue areas: managing the concentration and location of development, with an emphasis on the Commission’s transfer of development credit program; protecting public access opportunities; and addressing shoreline erosion and armoring. Since most of this ReCAP region does not yet have a certified Local Coastal Program (LCP), the analysis focused primarily on the Commission’s program and policies. ReCAP was undertaken in this area, in part, to assist the County of Los Angeles and the City of Malibu in completing LCPs for their jurisdictions.

Concentration and Location of Development: Planning studies for the Santa Monica Mountains region in the late 1970s found that the extent of potential development in the area could lead to significant cumulative impacts on coastal resources; this issue continues to be a major concern today. In 1996, the ReCAP region supported approximately 9,300 residential units. An additional 8,400 units could be built, based on existing (1996) land use planning documents for the area. Since 1978, the Commission has used a transfer of development credit (TDC) program to mitigate many of the cumulative impacts from new development in the region. Through this program, the development potential on existing parcels in designated areas is retired for each new parcel created through an approved subdivision or for multi-family residential projects. This process both reduces overall density in the region and directs new development to those areas most able to accommodate it. Through the TDC program, approximately 1,050 lots have been retired in the Santa Monica Mountains. The ReCAP findings discuss some of the issues of buildout in the coastal zone of the Santa Monica Mountains, detail the success of the TDC program, and discuss modifications to the program to further improve management of cumulative impacts in the region. Recommendations include modifying where future lot retirement should be focused, improving the tracking and monitoring of TDC requirements, and recommending that the City of Malibu and the County of Los Angeles implement a similar program through their LCPs.

Public Access: Maximizing public access is a primary objective of the Coastal Act. While maximizing public access opportunities includes many components, ReCAP evaluated only the issue of physical supply of public access in the Santa Monica Mountains. Physical supply includes lateral access (along the beach), vertical access (from an upland bluff or street to the beach), and upland trails that lead to the shore or traverse inland parklands in the coastal zone. Within the Santa Monica Mountains, inland trails provide significant recreational opportunities, views to the ocean and shoreline, and alternative means of access to the coast. Extensive development can affect access opportunities by directly blocking access and by leading to a perception of private areas where access is not allowed. Between 1978 and 1996, the supply of public access in the ReCAP region increased significantly through the acquisition of approximately 20,000 acres of public parkland. During this time, the Commission also required lateral, vertical, and inland trail access easements to mitigate the impacts of development on public access. A major concern has been that many of these easements are not yet open and available for public use. The access findings explain in more detail the availability of public access in the region and make recommendations on improving access to specific beaches, increasing access through improved public information, and improving access mitigation measures. Improving mitigation measures includes ensuring that easement areas are made available for public use and removing obstructions and encroachments on public lands and dedicated easement areas.

Shoreline Armoring: Much of the shoreline in the ReCAP area is vulnerable to erosion and wave uprush. To reduce the risk to private shorefront development, armoring of the coast has often occurred. Ocean beaches are also one of California’s most valuable recreational resources; therefore, the cumulative loss of public beaches from encroachment of shoreline armoring is an important coastal management issue. In addition to covering recreational beach area, shoreline armoring can also exacerbate erosion problems by fixing the back beach and eliminating the influx of sediment from coastal bluffs. From 1978 through 1996, the Commission authorized shoreline protective devices along an estimated 2.8 miles of shoreline in the project area, covering an estimated 3.5 acres of sandy beach. If shoreline armoring developed prior to the Coastal Act is included in the calculations, close to half the shoreline of the ReCAP area is affected by shoreline structures. Unless future armoring is avoided, up to five additional miles of shoreline could be armored with hard structures. ReCAP’s analysis also included an evaluation of the emergency permit process and the effect of recent amendments to the Coastal Act to exempt certain emergency actions from requiring Coastal Act review. Recommendations to address the impacts from shoreline armoring include better siting and redesign of development to avoid the need for armoring, increasing setbacks for development, discouraging rebuilding of damaged structures in hazardous areas, and better addressing armoring of the coast under emergency conditions.

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