The Story behind California’s Powerful Coastal Commission

From UC Berkeley News: (

No feature defines California like its 840 miles of coastline.


And that’s no accident, said Todd Holmes, a historian with the Bancroft Library’s Oral History Center who has long studied California’s coast.

“There’s a reason we don’t look like Miami or the Jersey Shore,” Holmes said. “It is because of the California Coastal Commission.”

Holmes is the creator of a new podcast from the Oral History Center about the commission, a powerful — sometimes controversial — state agency created by voters in 1972 to protect California’s iconic coastal redwoods, golden beaches and rugged cliffs.

Each of the 15 episodes will examine a particular moment in the commission’s history, from efforts to preserve San Francisco Bay to a fight over the Hearst Corporation’s plans to build a golf resort in Big Sur.

“So much of what the commission does you don’t see,” Holmes said. “All these developments that didn’t happen.”

The project started when Holmes and his colleagues began to interview the men and women involved in the creation of the commission for the Oral History Center, which collects firsthand accounts of major moments in California and global history.

Holmes realized the long interviews could be crafted into a narrative about the commission’s work.

“This way, people can hear the story of why the coast looks the way it does,” he said.

The first episode, about a fight over development at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, is available now, and the remaining 14 episodes will be posted over the next year, Holmes said.

Eventually, he hopes placards along the coast will point people to the audio histories.

“You could be in Santa Barbara and hit a QR-code with your phone to listen to a story about the fight over offshore oil drilling,” he said.

Every Californian has a connection with the coastline, said Holmes, who grew up outside of Sacramento and still remembers spending a day on a Los Angeles beach with family when he was four years old.

They picnicked, played in the water and gathered together to watch the sun go down before driving home.

“I’ve been a fan of sunsets ever since,” he said. “There is no better place to watch a sunset than the California Coast.”

Listen to the first episode on the Oral History Center’s page

3 thoughts on “The Story behind California’s Powerful Coastal Commission

  1. Also just as important as to why we don’t look like Miami or Jersey Shore today, and not mentioned here by Mr. Holmes in this lead in for his podcast is the importance of each LCP. Area LCPs contain the ground rules for each of the 76 coastal cities and counties. Many of these cities and counties have taken it a step further by dividing up there areas into separate geographical segments, making for a total of 126 LCPs in the coastal zone. Monterey County has broken its area up into 4 segments, North County, Del Monte Forest, Carmel Area, and the Big Sur Coast. The reasoning why behind this is each area is so very different and unique in its own way, and what may be good for one area, is not necessary good for another. Also the Hearst golf course and resort if I’m not mistaken was actually going to be built at San Simeon in SLO County, not in Big Sur.

  2. I was just writing to a friend from back East and she reminded me how lucky we are to live in this marvelous slice of the earth. 😀

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.