California Coastal Dreaming, Take 2

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Stillwater Cove, Monterey County

Looking out at the waves of Monterey Bay, with sand between my toes and the summer coastal fog wrapping me in its arms, I once again feel lucky to be a Californian.  One big reason so many of us are happy to call this state home is the beauty and accessibility of our fabled coastline – 1,100 miles of twists and turns, sugar soft sand, crashing waves and “the greatest meeting of land and sea in the world.”  For over forty years Coastal Commission director Peter Douglas has been standing guard over this coast, holding the line to protect nature, steering development carefully and making sure that everyone (not just those who own beachfront property) has a chance to get to the beach and dip their toes in the frothy water.  Last week Peter announced that he will retire from the work he loves to allow him to use all his strength to fight the cancer that’s been eating away at him for the past few years.  The coast of California draws big thinkers and doers from everywhere – from Henry Miller to Ansel Adams to Brian Wilson and Pamela Anderson, but no one we know has fought harder and shown greater resilience fighting for every coastal acre than Peter Douglas. 

Standing up for the every coveted mile of California’s coastline is not for the faint of heart.  Our coastal zone becomes a pressure zone when everyone vies for a piece of it.  Since voters first passed Prop 20, the Coastal Initiative, in 1970, our State’s population has doubled to 38 million.  More people, more action, same amount of coast.  Peter and the Coastal Commission along with the rest of California’s world class Coastal Management Program which includes the Coastal Conservancy and the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, have opened up hundreds of miles of coastline for people from all over the world to enjoy.   More coast for everyone and economic productivity too.  The development that has taken place is generally more tailored to the coastal environment than it would have been without the Coastal Commission.

Peter Douglas is a damn hard act to follow.  He, more than any single person, has been the Commission for decades.  It is hard to imagine what a shadow of itself the Commission would have been without him and the professional staff that he has fostered.  Over the years he and the Commission have saved the coast from damaging proposals to build a nuclear power plant on the Santa Cruz County coast, run a toll road through a State Park in Orange County, lock up beaches in Malibu, Sonoma County, Pebble Beach and more.  Peter’s commitment and passion for the coast and for the Coastal Act, and his relentless spirit in the face of regular attacks from developers, governors and state legislators, have been inspirational.  It’s been a source of strength knowing that he’s been steering the ship, no matter what the storm of the moment.  California’s coast is our greatest environmental and economic resource, and his life’s work has left a legacy of coastal protection that has enriched us all and will enrich our children and theirs forever.

We at NRDC have been there since the beginning to stand up for the coast.  We can all thank the Commission for everything it’s accomplished – all the grindingly difficult work in the trenches for all these years.  Now, with the strong program that Peter and his team have built, we’ll move on to the new coastal challenges, knowing that their foundation will serve us all well.