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The California Coastal Commission Project

Picture of the Bixby Creek Bridge along U.S. 1 near Big Sur, California
The Bixby Creek Bridge along U.S. 1 near Big Sur, California

This project of the Bill Lane Center is an interdisciplinary collaborative that explores the history, operation, policies and impact of the California Coastal Commission.

The Commission was created by a 1972 public initiative aimed at regulating development along the state's 1,100 mile coastline. It 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 Coastal Commission Project has two main components: history and empirical analysis.


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 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.

Background on the Coastal Commission 

The California Coastal Commission was created by a 1972 public initiative (California Proposition 20, known as the Coastal Zone Conservation Act). The mandate of the Commission is to protect coastal ecosystems, regulate development in the coastal zone, and ensure continued public access to a coastal zone extending three miles out to sea.

While the Act authorized the public agency to operate for four years, the California Coastal Commission was made permanent by the legislature with the California Coastal Act of 1976.

Affiliated Researchers

Center Researchers
Bruce E. Cain
Iris Hui
Other Researchers
Todd Holmes
Dan Reineman