Economy and Public Policy

California Coastal Commission Project

The California Coastal Commission was created by a 1972 public initiative aimed at regulating development along the state's 1,100 mile coastline. The Commission is charged with regulating all development and economic activity, while also securing greater public access and environmental protection. The Commission’s work, spanning the last three decades of the twentieth century, came at a crucial point in American environmentalism, and offers a unique and significant lens to study various aspects of environmental politics in California and the American West. 

The Center's project is an interdisciplinary collaborative that explores the history, operation, policies, and impact of the Commission. It has two main components:

For More Information

Visit the Center's page, "Topics of the North American West: The California Coastal Commission" with additional resources and background. Read More »


The historical portion of this project seeks to uncover the history of the Commission, tracing how it changed over time, as well as its contributions to environmental policy—both past and present. The history project aims to chart the changing political facets of environmentalism over the decades, and explore the ever-shrinking middle ground as the Commission sought to navigate between the vying interests of business, environmental groups, politicians, and citizens over one of the most desirable coastlines in the western hemisphere.   

Empirical Analysis

The empirical analysis portion of the project is gathering and evaluating Local Coastal Programs (LCPs), which are development guidelines prepared by local communities in the coastal zone and certified by the Coastal Commission.

These LCP plans are planning tools that help guide coastal development and land use in the 76 coastal towns and cities in California. The Center's project is using text mining and statistical analysis to analyze similarities and differences across communities, with a view to assessing how their goals and priorities differ from that of the Commission.