Analyze This: Unelected Regulatory Zealots Don’t Need More Power
California’s Legislative Analyst (LAO) is a nonpartisan body “providing fiscal and policy advice to the Legislature for more than 70 years,” according to its website. Some of its recent advice is seriously misguided, such as a proposal to expand the power of an unelected body, headed by regulatory zealots, that already has too much clout.
On development issues, the California Coastal Commission (CCC), overrides the elected governments of counties and cities on the state’s 1,100-mile shoreline. Under current conditions, if the Commission wants to punish cities and counties for violations of the Coastal Act it must follow due process of law and file a case in superior court. That does not sit well with the Commission because it occasionally loses in court. The LAO also objects to this limitation on CCC power.
In a recent analysis, the LAO recommends that “the Legislature grant the California Coastal Commission the authority to levy administrative civil penalties in order to reduce the costs of enforcing compliance with the commission’s regulations and to stabilize funding for related activities.” States the LAO: “We further recommend that a special fund be created within the commission for receipt of penalty revenues.”
The LAO analysis finds that the current process is “cumbersome,” and results in “few fines and penalties.” Those have remained “stable” at $150,000 but the LAO thinks that letting the CCC bypass the courts could rake in more money. The LAO plan appears solely based on fundraising potential, and unrelated to any pressing environmental problem. Other issues are in play here.
The scores of duly elected governments on California’s coast are full capable of managing their own affairs, including those dealing with the environment. Coastal cities and counties, and their residents, put much time and money into preparation of their building plans. That all goes to waste if the CCC nixes them, and it doesn’t take much, nothing at all in fact, for the CCC to nix anything.
If revenue is the issue, new development would bring a lot more than any fines the CCC could levy. By blocking development in cooler coastal areas, much California housing development takes place in hot inland areas where air conditioning gets heavy use in cars and houses alike and drives up energy demands. So the CCC is also environmentally counterproductive.
In a democracy, all bodies should respect human rights and remain subject to the rule of law. Letting the Commission bypass the courts will make it even more of a law unto itself than it already is. On the other hand, if the legislature heeds the LAO’s bad advice and lets the CCC avoid the courts, perhaps the Commission could imprison its own corrupt officials such as Mark Nathanson. His creative revenue scheme involved shaking down celebrities for bribes in exchange for building permits.
The combination of mafia-style corruption and Stalinist regulation is another good reason California should dump the Coastal Commission. In a near-bankrupt state, a legislature and governor serious about reform would abolish all redundant, counterproductive, and abusive government bodies at the earliest opportunity.