The California coast is a unique treasure loved by locals and visitors alike. To protect California’s coast and ocean for present and future generations, citizens came together in 1972 to enact the The California Coastal Conservation Initiative. Through this initiative, the Coastal Commission came into being. Four years later, the State Legislature enacted the California Coastal Act, which is the primary law that governs the decisions of the Coastal Commission. The Act outlines, among other things, standards for development within the Coastal Zone.
In present-day, if a local municipality has land in the designated Coastal Zone either the state-wide Coastal Commission or a Local Coastal Program (LCP) governs the use of land within that area. Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz City, Watsonville, and Capitola all have their own Local Coastal Programs.
The Coastal Zone encompasses 1.5 million acres of land and can stretch anywhere from 3 to 5 miles at sea to an inland boundary. In Santa Cruz County, the coastal zone extends about five miles inland from the North Coast. From Natural Bridges to 41st Avenue in Capitola, it extends about 0.6 miles inland. From Capitola to the south County boundary, it extends to Highway One.
Under the Coastal Act, “coastal development” has a very broad definition. This means, if you own or plan to own property within the coastal zone, a majority of property-alterations must be approved by the LCP that has jurisdiction over that area or by the Coastal Commission. If you have a project in mind, we suggest contacting your local LCP to learn more about the feasibility of the work. You may appeal the LCP’s decision either to the LCP directly or the Coastal Commission.
Buying or developing a residential or commercial property near the coast may come with additional risks due to climate change. The National Research Council (NRC) projects that by Year 2100, sea level in California may rise by 4 to 56 in (10 to 143 cm) for areas north of Cape Mendocino and 17 to 66 in (42 to 167 cm) for areas south of Cape Mendocino (NRC 2012). If you are in what the Coastal Commission considers a future-hazardous zone, you may have a more difficult time finishing a project in the near future. This is why thorough research is a must before buying property in this area.
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