UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA, Stanford Law School, and Resources Legacy Fund
present a discussion of the past, present, and future of California’s coast



2016 marks the 40th anniversary of the California Coastal Act. Enacted in 1976, the Act has guided coastal development and protection for decades. But today the California coastline arguably faces its greatest challenges yet relating to the balance between preservation and development, the Coastal Commission’s relationship to other government agencies and jurisdictions, projected impacts of sea-level rise and related coastal change, and conflicts over public access, including access for underserved communities.

On November 17, 2016, experts, practitioners and stakeholders came together for a one-day discussion exploring the 40-year history of California coastal management and mapping the agenda for the next 40 years of implementation. Expert speakers led discussions regarding the history and evolution of California’s coastal policies, key issues being considered and debated today, and potential paths forward.


The organizers drew from the symposium discussions and drafted an issue brief about the key challenges of state coastal governance, to capture the ideas explored and provide a foundation for next steps.  

The Past, Present, and Future of California’s Coastal Act: Overcoming Division to Comprehensively Manage the Coast identifies key questions we need to answer and begins to chart a course for the next 40 years of Coastal Act implementation.




>> Issue Brief (Aug. 2017) 

>> Symposium Program

>> Participant Biographies 

>> Background Document 

>> Recording of Symposium Proceedings 

Live web streaming and video archiving of this conference were generously provided by the California Coastal Commission to support broad public participation and recorded access to the discussions.



Jordan Diamond, Executive Director, Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, UC Berkeley School of Law


Richard M. Frank, Executive Director, California Environmental Law & Policy Center, UC Davis School of Law


The California Coastal Act is a nation-leading conservation and management law that arose from a citizen-led initiative – Proposition 20 of 1972 – and an intensive three-year public education and consultation process. This panel highlighted major themes that run through the Coastal Act and that are highly relevant today, and identified cross-cutting issues that will shape implementation of the Act over the next 40 years.

Moderator: Letise Lafeir, California Ocean Policy Manager, Monterey Bay Aquarium


Preserving public access to California’s coastal resources was one of the driving issues that prompted passage of the Coastal Act, and it remains perhaps the most important—and certainly the most controversial—obligation of the Coastal Commission four decades later. This panel discussed the history of public access to the coast, key past, present, and future access controversies in California, legal requirements for and constitutional limits on mandated coastal access, and how future public access to the coast can be ensured for all.

Moderator: Richard Frank, Executive Director, California Environmental Law & Policy Center, UC Davis School of Law


Secretary John Laird, California Natural Resources Agency

(remarks began at 1:00pm)


In addition to the Coastal Commission, a multitude of local, state, federal, and nongovernmental entities have authorities that apply within the coastal zone. A key opportunity for and challenge to robust coastal governance is ensuring effective and efficient coordination and collaboration between them. This café-style conversation explored past successes and current challenges to cultivating collaborative efforts, systems, and implementation strategies.

Moderator: Jordan Diamond, Executive Director, Center for Law, Energy & the Environment, UC Berkeley School of Law


Increasing temperatures are forecasted to raise global sea levels by over a meter in this century, and to exacerbate storms in frequency and intensity. Coastal managers and residents will have to respond to these changing conditions. Speakers on this panel discussed the current state of predictions and forecasts, existing authorities to guide response, the California Coastal Commission’s sea level rise guidance and surrounding context, and what more is needed to help the California Coast prepare for and adapt to changing conditions.

Moderator: Sean Hecht, Co-Executive Director, Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, UCLA School of Law

Featured Speakers


  • Secretary John Laird, California Natural Resources Agency
  • John Ainsworth, Acting Executive Director, California Coastal Commission
  • Madeline Cavalieri, Coastal Program Manager, California Coastal Commission
  • Marlene Finley, Director, San Mateo County Parks
  • Robert Garcia, Founding Director & Counsel, The City Project
  • Deborah Halberstadt, Executive Director, Ocean Protection Council
  • Letise LaFeir, California Ocean Policy Manager, Monterey Bay Aquarium
  • Pedro Nava, Chair, Little Hoover Commission
  • Sarah Newkirk, Coastal Program Director, The Nature Conservancy
  • Senator Fran Pavley, California’s 27th District
  • Sandi Potter, Manager, Comprehensive Planning Division, Sonoma County
  • Carmen Ramirez, Mayor Pro Tem, Oxnard City Council
  • Damien Schiff, Principal Attorney, Pacific Legal Foundation
  • Mary Small, Deputy Executive Officer, California Coastal Conservancy
  • Becky Smyth, West Coast Director, NOAA Office for Coastal Management

Organizing Committee

Jordan Diamond
UC Berkeley School of Law

Holly Doremus
UC Berkeley School of Law

Rick Frank
UC Davis School of Law

Sean Hecht
UCLA School of Law

Shauna Oh
UC Davis Coastal & Marine Sciences Institute

Deborah Sivas
Stanford Law School

Matt Armsby
Resources Legacy Fund

Jocelyn Herbert
Resources Legacy Fund