State of the Beach/State Reports/CA/Beach Description

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California has the largest ocean economy in the United States in terms of employment and gross state product. The state’s vibrant tourism industry, diverse fishing industry, international ports and other businesses comprise an ocean-dependent economy of between $43 billion to $46 billion per year. Also, almost 70% of California’s citizens live in coastal counties. The state’s coastal economies and communities depend on protecting the coastal marine environment that fuels and sustains economic growth and prosperity.[1]

California has a varied and diverse coastline composed of several different types of beaches and geological features: approximately 28.4% of the coastline consists of pocket beaches, 32.3% is sandy beach, and 39.3% is rocky shoreline.[2] Among the dominant features of the California coastline are mountain ranges located either directly on or just inland of the coastline. The state has three coastal mountain ranges: the Coast Range (Oregon border to Santa Ynez River in Santa Barbara), transverse range (Santa Ynez Mountains to Los Angeles Basin), and peninsular range (Los Angeles Basin to the tip of the Baja peninsula).

For characterization purposes California's diverse coast can be grouped into three general geographic areas: north, central, and south. The north coast is characterized by rugged shoreline, with wind-swept beaches, dramatic headlands, wild rivers and towering redwoods. The central coast offers extremely varied landscapes: from the urban centers of San Francisco, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo, to the large undeveloped rangelands found in between. The south coast, by far the most populous and most visited, is the home of the California beach scene typified by Malibu, Venice and Huntington Beach. While sandy beaches prevail in many areas, in other regions, such as parts of San Diego County, the beaches have eroded away almost entirely.[3]

Contact Info for the Lead Coastal Zone Management Agency

California Coastal Commission
45 Fremont Street, Suite 2000
San Francisco, CA 94105 2219
Phone: (415) 904-5200

Coastal Zone Management Program

California's coastal zone management program is centralized and is organized into three primary agencies: the California Coastal Commission (CCC), the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), and the California State Coastal Conservancy (SCC). The CCC and BCDC have regulatory responsibility for permits in the coastal zone. In addition, several other state agencies have responsibilities that are relevant to the Beach Health Indicators. The California Division of Boating and Waterways (DBW) has responsibility for such beach management issues as beach fill and erosion studies. All of these agencies are under the umbrella of the California Natural Resources Agency.

The video Heroes of the Coast presents 50 years of the California coastal protection movement from direct sources--the individuals who worked successfully for passage of Prop. 20 in 1972. Prop. 20 created the California Coastal Commission, and was reauthorized by the legislature's passage of the Coastal Act in 1976, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The documentary also describes the process and achievements of the Coastal Commission.

Contact information for BCDC, SCC and DBW is as follows:

San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
50 California Street, Suite 2600
San Francisco, CA 94111
Phone: (415) 352-3600

California Coastal Conservancy
11th Floor, 1330 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612
Phone: (510) 286-1015 fax (510) 286-0470

California Division of Boating and Waterways
2000 Evergreen Street, Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95815-3888
Phone: (916) 263-1331

California's coastal management program is carried out through a partnership between state and local government. Implementation of Coastal Act policies is accomplished primarily through the preparation of local coastal programs (LCPs) prepared by each of the 15 counties and 58 cities located in whole or in part in the coastal zone. Completed LCPs must be submitted to the Commission for review and approval. An LCP includes a land use plan (LUP), which is the relevant portion of the local general plan, including any maps necessary to administer it, and the zoning ordinances, zoning district maps, and other legal instruments necessary to implement the land use plan. Coastal Act policies are the standards by which the Commission evaluates the adequacy of LCPs.

The California State Water Resources Control Board and nine Regional Water Quality Control Boards have responsibility for marine recreational water quality standards, monitoring and reporting requirements that are implemented at the county level.

NOAA's latest evaluation of California's Coastal Management Program can be found here. The following text is from the Executive Summary of the evaluation in 2010:

"The evaluation team documented a number of CCMP accomplishments during this review period. Faced with a continuing decrease in staff and financial resources, all three agencies of the CCMP are placing ever greater emphasis on both new and existing partnerships as a way to leverage capabilities, integrate programs with other complementary efforts, secure additional financial support, and advance shared policy objectives. Recognizing the high priority that the citizens of California place on public access and the state’s coastal resources, all three agencies have continued to be significant forces in the acquisition and protection of coastal public access and the preservation, restoration, and enhancement of coastal habitat, even in the face of decreasing financial resources to do so.
Climate change and sea level rise are already affecting California’s coastal and San Francisco Bay resources, and the Coastal Commission, BCDC, and the Coastal Conservancy have incorporated climate change planning into their programs. BCDC in particular is transforming itself into an international leader in the development of a regional strategy for planning for and addressing the impacts of climate change and sea level rise. It has initiated or partnered on several innovative activities and efforts.
The evaluation team also identified areas where the CCMP could be strengthened. The greatest challenge the California Coastal Management Program faces is the significant loss of resources stemming primarily from the downturn in the national and state economies. Decreases in staff positions and funding are having deleterious effects (to varying degrees) on all three CCMP agencies. In particular, the Coastal Commission has not been able to meet its statutory requirement to review approved LCPs at least once every five years, and the Commission staff works extremely hard to process all permit applications within the regulatory time frames. It also is very difficult for staff members to work proactively with a permit applicant prior to or during the application review, just as it is difficult to work proactively with LCPs. Several people with whom the evaluation met stressed the vital need for proactive participation.
Almost all of the recommendations in this findings document are directly or indirectly tied to, or are a result of, the loss of financial resources and staff. All three agencies should conduct staff transition and succession planning in light of the loss of newer, less experienced staff and the probable retirement of senior staff and managers over the next several years. OCRM is aware that the Coastal Commission and BCDC have become adept at locating diverse funding sources, which are becoming more limited. Nevertheless, several recommendations suggest a continued search for additional funding sources to meet legislative responsibilities and long overdue upgrades to permit tracking systems. In anticipation of a requirement that a state have an approved CELCP plan in order to apply for CELCP funding, California should finalize its plan and submit it to NOAA for review and approval to avoid the loss of that funding source. OCRM recognizes that until more resources are identified, these recommendations may not be fully met.
The Coastal Commission must develop a strategic plan to prioritize the functions, programs, and processes that it administers in light of insufficient staff and financial resources to meet all its statutory responsibilities."


  1. Draft Five-Year Strategic Plan, 2012-2017, California Ocean Protection Council, December 2011.
  2. Scholar, Deirdre C. and Gary B. Griggs. "Pocket Beaches of California: Sediment Transport Along a Rocky Coastline." California's Coastal Natural Hazards. University of Southern California Sea Grant Program. 1998.
  3. California Coast Public Action Plan, June 1999.
  4. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores" Coastal Management 27:187-217, 1999.
  5. Melanie Coyne, California State Coastal Conservancy, written correspondence. February 2002.
  6. Bernd-Cohen, T. and M. Gordon. "State Coastal Program Effectiveness in Protecting Natural Beaches, Dunes, Bluffs, and Rock Shores." Coastal Management 27:187-217. 1999.

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