Skip to content (press enter)


Report from Sacramento: State Lands and the Public Trust

We often acknowledge that Surfrider's success is largely due to our activists serving as eyes on the ground (and along the sand and in the water!). Our chapter volunteers also inspire those of us on staff when the work load grows heavy and the drive seems to grow longer with every mile. I thought about this while crafting my comments for the California State Lands Commission's recent special meeting to discuss what stakeholders thought the future should bring.

Surfrider had been invited to join a panel of environmental NGOs to better present ideas, provide feedback and talk about the stewardship of the public trust directly with State Controller Betty Yee, Lieutenant Governor Eleni Kounalakis and Chief Deputy of Policy at the California Department of Finance Gayle Miller, who together make up the State Lands Commission. (Miller is an alternate for Finance Director Keely Bosler).

The Commission manages our public trust lands – which consist of 4 million acres of tide and submerged lands and the beds of navigable rivers, streams, lakes, bays, estuaries, inlets, and straits – and also protects state waters from marine invasive species and oil spills. This makes them important stewards of California's invaluable marine protected area (MPA) network.

They've made news for taking pro-access stands at Martins Beach and Hollister Ranch, and for overseeing the oil rig decommissioning taking place at Platform Holly down in the Santa Barbara Channel. They also led the successful effort to ensure women surfers competing in contests are paid the same as their male counterparts. So Surfrider pays a lot of attention to what's happening at State Lands Commission meetings and I was pleased be part of a panel focused on protecting the public trust.

If you're interested – and we hope you are – you can watch the condensed video clip above or read the transcript of my remarks below. (Note: The transcript does not include Q&A with Commissioners, only opening remarks.) Thoughts? Send them to!

Surfrider comments, State Lands Commission, Feb. 4, 2020:

I know you’re all familiar with Surfrider Foundation, but I thought it would be worthwhile to quickly provide an overview of our mission to provide context for how we’ve evaluated the Strategic Plan: In short, Surfrider is an international organization dedicated to the protection and enjoyment of the world’s ocean, beaches and waves through a powerful activist network. We have more than 80 chapters in the U.S. and more than 20 in California including several high school and college clubs. Collectively, our network is on the front lines of beach access, water quality, coastal preservation, plastic pollution and ocean protection and it’s our chapter volunteers who really drive what we do. 

While we have differed on some coastal projects, our mission and yours have more often aligned over the years including on such efforts as defending the public’s right to access Martins Beach (clearly still ongoing), applauding your leadership on pay equity at the Mavericks surf contest and elevating efforts to address the pollution crisis happening in the Tijuana River Valley. We commend the 2019 successes and your staff deserves a big shout-out for generally being a progressive, modern, responsive agency evolving in a deliberate and self-aware way.   

Which brings me to the priorities ahead. I made a list, but really it should be more of a web or maybe a Venn diagram because of course what happens in one area affects the others – for example, the response to SLR will define your approach to coastal access which has equity consequences. As a practical matter, no single issue puts California’s identity and economy at risk as much as the pending impacts of sea level rise. But even if the State Lands Commission prioritizes responding to and preparing for sea level rise in the most proactive way possible, if other state agencies aren’t on the same page, our beaches will nonetheless be lost. 

So first and foremost, we suggest building on the Public Trust Coordination Project model to maximize alignment between all state agencies to ensure that sea level rise adaptation is factored into all projects and policies in such a way as to maximize coastal preservation and access – we need our beaches. 

This also ties into the current strategic goal “Engage Californians to Help Safeguard Their Trust Lands and Resources.” People don’t realize the risks we’re facing, a point driven home in the LAO’s December report on the state’s lack of preparation regarding sea level rise. As someone who grew up in the Mojave desert, I wasn’t as clued in to coastal politics as the people who owned property on the beach, but that beach means as much to people who live inland as it does the people with an ocean view and if more Californians realized what they face losing, I believe more people would engage. Factor in the economic inequity between the coastal and inland populations and the legacy injustices related to economic inequity and, well, it’s a huge conversation that’s important to keep having as you continue incorporating and prioritizing equity and environmental justice into your framework.

Additionally on SLR, we support the continuance of the Coastal Hazards Removal Program; not only are these structural remnants a danger, but in the face of rising seas, we need to be eliminating (and prohibiting as much as possible) any structures that will increase erosion. 

Finally on that topic, we would like to see attention paid specifically to Humboldt Bay as it’s considered by many experts to be Ground Zero for sea level rise and yet the remoteness and relatively low regional population makes these pending impacts often overlooked.  

Addressing and eliminating the sewage, trash, sediment and chemical waste polluting the Tijuana River Valley region continues to be one of Surfrider’s national priority campaigns and we want to see the Commission and its staff continue to advocate for solutions to this crisis as well. 

Surfrider supports the rapid development of renewable energy sources in response to the climate crisis, and we also request that stakeholders be continually engaged in proposed offshore wind energy projects given the lack of data and increasing concerns related to that industry.

Ensuring access to public trust lands should continue to be a priority; Surfrider’s Santa Barbara chapter has engaged in the process to correct the longstanding wrong that has prevented the public from accessing the beach through Hollister Ranch and we anticipate participating in the ongoing battle at Martins Beach. 

Finally – and I say this in the most 501c3 non-partisan way – what happens in November on the federal level will likely influence your planning. We may find ourselves digging into defense mode even deeper than we have over the past few years. Efforts to extract as much as possible from our public lands may ramp back up and even intensify. In any case, we must continue fortifying our defenses against longstanding threats like offshore oil drilling and proactively defend against new ones such as seabed mining. While California’s marine jurisdiction may end three miles out, your impact – as we’ve seen – has the potential to reach much farther.