Coastal Commission faces budget cuts

Posted by on Wed, July 30, 2008

The Coastal Commission is preparing for budget cuts driven by Gov. Schwartzenegger’s proposal to cut 10% from the state’s "bureaucracy", reports the Capitol Weekly. Layout notices have been sent to 46 members of its 125-person staff.  The staff says that there is a possibility to 19 to 25 layoffs.  At one time, the commission had a staff of 200.

"Budget cuts at these levels will devastate the Coastal Commission and critically impair implementation of the Coastal Act. The commission will not be able to work with local governments on LCP (Local Coastal Plan) issues…," Susan Hansch, the commission’s budget expert and chief deputy director, wrote in a July 8 memo to the commission’s employees.
The fundamental issue is that the commission is charged by law with protecting coastal lands, and it must make far-reaching decisions that often affect millions of dollars and the stewardship of the state’s majestic landscape.

"I don’t believe the system is designed to allow less scrutiny," said Andi Culbertson, an urban-planning consultant in Santa Ynez. "The time frames for processing projects have gone up and up because the staffing has gone down and down. They are barely able to make their own statutory time frames."

So what happens if the numbers of staff members get cut still more?

"There are only so many white mice and they can go only so fast. The Coastal Act is a very labor-intensive law, very evidence-intensive, and there is an awful lot of work to do," Culbertson said.

The article is pretty heavy on quotes from land use consultants and other folks who make their livings from coastal development and who aren’t shedding any tears for the commission’s staff.

Caltrans has about 11,000 engineers, which is far more than necessary for the work they do. I would much rather see that unresponsive state agency take the additional cuts needed to provide adequate funding for the Coastal Commission so they can have sufficient staff to meet their legislative mandates.

In my view, the Coastal Commission is an excellent model of small efficient government that is responsive to the citizens of California. Caltrans is a bloated state agency that wastes taxpayer dollars by the billions and is notoriously unresponsive to citizen concerns.

I know what you can do with 131 Commission staff that you can’t do with 85. But what can you do with 11,000 engineers that you can’t do with 10,954?

Cutting the state’s staff is a good start.  But why limit it to 10%.  How about more.

And hopefully we can stop sending everything to them.  Some of the requests are absurd. 

Kind of reminds me of the joke.  What do you call 10,000 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean?  A good start.

You seem to lump all state employees into the same group without any deference to the services they provide.

I prefer to look at the effectiveness of the state’s employees, and weed out those with poor performance first.

I place Caltrans at the top of my list because I don’t think we get much bang for the buck with them. On the other hand, Coastal Commission staff do a lot to protect natural resources and significantly increase the value of property within the Coastal Zone.

Those same efforts also do much to generate a lot of tourism for the state. I think a fully funded Coastal Commission is a net plus for the state, whereas the bloated Department of Transportation is a significant net minus for the state. They simply have far more engineers than they need.

Yeah, heard that joke before,
However, I’ve also found this to be true:

“Everyone hates lawyers until they need one”

BTW, No, I’m not an attorney.

I do not support the Draconian cuts by our governor, cutting the coastal commision eviscerates the very core of public interest oversight entity that ensure’s California’s wild coastal heritage. I enjoy this line in the song America The Beautiful

America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

w/o an effective coastal commission functioning as guardians of our coast, I see more fences, more “no trespassing” signs, and blot’s upon the coastal landscape.  Blot’s that are maximum investment driven rather than public access oriented.

There is so much wastefulness in government (federal, state and local levels).  I think you could easily cut 15% from every departments’ budgets and tell them to make it work.

From pork barrel spending to special projects to inflated salaries with annual raises and the endless list of benefits,  its out of control.

And then there are those things you can’t talk about that also consume massive amounts of money.

The whole thing is out of control.  And with the “gottcha politics” you don’t attract the best and brightest.  So what do you expect.

The Coastal Commission staff has been reduced repeatedly in recent years. 

It’s one thing to “trim fat”, but anyone who has ever actually trimmed fat knows that there’s only so much you can trim before you start cutting away the meat.

At its largest, the commission’s staff has been one of the smallest agencies in the state.  With over 1100 miles of coastline to deal with, the work load has always been heavy.

Blindly demanding a percentage cut isn’t management or oversight.  It’s altogether too blunt, and shows no understanding or discernment, much less leadership.

Submitted too quickly.  My last paragraph had to do with state leadership, no locals commenting on the situation.  It’s one thing for folks to have an opinion on how to go at it, but the ones with the actual responsibility need to show understanding, discernment, and leadership beyond “cut, cut, cut.”

A realtor makes a joke about lawyers. For balance, I’d like to hear a lawyer make a joke about realtors.

When most people find that their income doesn’t cover expenses,  they reduce spending.  Why can’t the government do the same.  Raising taxes to compensate for mismanagement and wasteful spending is not the answer.

With no disrespect to people with substance abuse but you won’t get someone to stop drinking by saying have more to help you stop.

Same with government.  They won’t get their house in order if they aren’t forced to make the hard choices.

Also,  if the economy is going into an economic downturn,  it is foolish to raise taxes.  Companies won’t expand employment or spending if their costs go up,  they’ll just leave the state or get by with less.

Government is not the solution.  It is too big and inefficient and needs to be reduced.  And that’s true at all levels.

I haven’t really heard any great realtor jokes.  Of course,  there is an unlimited supply about politicians.  Realtors using hookers or getting caught in bathrooms isn’t nearly as funny as when politicians do it. And on a local level,  there’s Beachwood and our lobbyist.

I guess we are just not as amusing as a group of politicians.

I heard a good realtor joke the other day: David Lereah.

Thanks for not including me and my column.

To put Jonathan’s comment in context:

David Liar-reah

I’ll bite,

I heard it was so cold last December the realtors had their hands in their OWN pockets…

(for clarity’s sake, I’m neither a Realtor nor an Attorney)

As far as government being too big, I’ve heard this mantra for so long and seemingly every time belts are tightened, it’s the quality of life Gov programs that take the hit’s time and again. Mental health, health care, Parks, Coastal protection.
Could these programs stand some efficiency reviews?
No doubt about it, although I personally expect some credible review by elected officials before hacking away.

I saw that piece.  It is hard being a forecaster and you live and die by your words.  The longer the time period,  the more questionable the results.

At least here on the Coast,  prices only dropped noticably twice in 20 years.  The graph looks like stairs with rises followed by plateaus.

Having seen all the speculative abuses and foreclosures,  I only encourage people to buy homes if they need them.  Trying to make a quick buck from flipping doesn’t work here. 

While they say in real estate its location,  I believe timing is everything. 

But back to the topic.  Cutting government is good.  If we can layoff teachers,  we can certainly cut staff at the Coastal Commission.


The question is what portion of government should be cut. Surely you realize that not all government agencies are wasteful, or that some are more wasteful than others. The smart thing to do is to trim the wasteful agencies first.

It’s pretty clear to me that Caltrans’ is one of our state’s most wasteful agencies. They waste precious transportation resources by the hundreds of millions of dollars, enough to fully fund the Commission for decades.

We also need to recognize that taxes and government services need to be linked. They aren’t separate issues like you and many others present them. We Californians have a tendency to demand lots of government services without paying for them, or to demand lower taxes without saying what we want cut.

I suspect you may want the Coastal Commission completely eradicated, but that doesn’t provide effective enforcement of the Coastal Act nor will it solve the state’s fiscal crisis. One need only know the minuscule portion of the state budget that goes to funding the Commission to see that.

It’s always worth a smile when the people who cheer on cuts at the Coastal Commission are the same ones who complain about delays on various matters at the Commission. Extend foot, aim, fire!

Carl May

> The longer the time period, the more questionable the results.

Lereah’s book, *Why the Real Estate Boom Will Not Bust - And How You Can Profit from It: How to Build Wealth in Today’s Expanding Real Estate Market*, appeared in Feb 2006. He didn’t need a very long time period for a rather questionable result. In Sept 2006 he was calling economists who foresaw the crash “Chicken Littles”. In Sept 2007 he told us that the housing market had hit bottom.

This guy was the “chief economist” for the National Association of Realtors. I assume that Steve helped pay his salary; correct me if I’m wrong about that.

He wrote a similar book about the stock market bubble, with similarly bad timing.

Steve Hyman wrote:

“When most people find that their income doesn’t cover expenses, they reduce spending. Why can’t the government do the same?”

Actually, the sad truth is that, over the past five years, when people found that their income didn’t cover expenses, they extracted home equity and kept right on spending—all the while cheered on by realtors like Lereah who said that house prices would never go down. Now those same people are saddled with debts that exceed the value of their assets.

Most of the short sales I’ve seen were due to people buying homes with nothing down.  When their mortgages adjusted out of the teaser rates,  they walked.  Having 0 down makes walking away easier cause of little equity.  Then the lender gets stuck writing down the mortgage, paying prop taxes, hoa fees and real estate commission.

The scenario of people taking out second mortgages and then exceeding the market’s value is much smaller,  at least here.

Home prices in both the County and Coast were still up for the first half over last year.  Volume,  a good indicator of demand,  has been declining since 2004 with this year being the lowest level since 1990’s.

And yes,  a small percent of my annual dues goes to NAR with the bulk going to SAMCAR.

Comment 21
Tue, August 5, 2008 12:43pm
Carl May
All my comments

“Home prices in both the County and Coast were still up for the first half over last year. Volume, a good indicator of demand, has been declining since 2004 with this year being the lowest level since 1990’s.”

Define “home prices.” If this turns out to be the average price—the mean price—the statement may or may not be worthless for the majority of homes because of prices of more expensive homes do not represent what is happening with all homes. Is it asking price or sale price? Big difference there, also. And so on. Fogged information only fools the gullible.

I am referring to average home prices for both areas.  Go check out my website at for charts on prices, volume, interest rates and inventory over time.

Also the Review has charts.  1 came out 2 weeks ago and 1 is coming out tomorrow on SM County.

Average home “prices” may or may not have anything to do with what is happening to the average home or with most homes. For example, higher prices for a few homes at the upper end can more than compensate for lower prices for a much larger number of homes in the middle and lower end.

And then there are the matters of asking versus selling price and whether or not all the houses that can’t currently sell at any price are being considered.

Fuzzy statements about prices don’t help anyone to know what is going on and don’t do anything to establish one’s authority. So be clear.

Obviously numbers can be misleading.  I try and be consistent and use the same method over the years to factor out any bias.

I also try and look at many factors like sales volume by price category cause that shows the weighting.

Tomorrow’s piece also mentions the percent of sales price to list price for the first half for the County.  The one weakness with this number is that the list price isn’t necessarily the original list price which could overstate things.  But you have to work with the data you have.

I’ll give you a hint that the percent of sales price to list price is very high although down slightly from both year end and first half 2007.  You’ll have to buy the paper to get the facts.

I was tempted to post here, but decided that we really need a separate topic on Coastside real estate price trends, so I started one in Town Hall: