California Coastal Commission

About the project 

In 1972, the citizens of California voted overwhelmingly to create a new agency charged with regulating all development along the state’s coastline. That agency became known as the California Coastal Commission. For nearly 50 years, the Commission has worked with coastal communities to shape development along California’s shore, efforts guided by the dual aims of environmental protection and public access. That work has resulted in the preservation of one of the most unique and desirable coastlines in the Western Hemisphere; it has also made the California Coastal Commission the international flagship of coastal regulation.
The California Coastal Commission Project is capturing the history of this important agency through oral history interviews with former commissioners, staff, and community affiliates. From the campaign for Proposition 20 that created the agency in 1972 to the various development battles it confronted in the decades that followed, these interviews document nearly a half century of coastal regulation in California, and in the process, shed new light on the many facets involved in environmental policy. The OHC was able to capture parts of this history in interviews conducted years earlier for other projects. The Center now aims to complete that collection.

In addition to the oral histories, the project also seeks to put these voices into conversation and let them tell the history of both the agency and coastal conservation in their communities. It is often said that the true history of the California Coastal Commission is what you don’t see, namely, the developments along the coast the agency either denied or significantly scaled back. This “unseen” history stands at the heart of the 15-episode podcast, Coastal Tales: The Long Struggle to Preserve California’s Coast, which the OHC is producing in partnership with the Bill Lane Center for the American West at Stanford University.
Each episode of the podcast features a specific site on the state’s coastline and details the story of a proposed development that, if not for the Coastal Commission, would have significantly altered those sites and communities forever. The podcast draws from the oral history interviews of the project, along with smaller, supplemental interviews done for each episode. Episodes are housed on a dedicated website here that also feature the full transcripts of the interviews, along with additional information and resources on the history of the Commission. It is hoped that the California Coastal Commission project site will prove to be a valuable resource for students, policymakers, and the public. In time, it is planned that the public will also be able to access the episodes at the sites themselves with the scan of a QR code.
We launched the pilot episode about saving Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz, and the rest of the podcast was slated to be released in the fall of 2020.

If you’d like to learn more about this project, please contact Todd Holmes. Help us to create more of these oral histories and future podcasts by supporting the OHC.

Podcast — pilot episode

“Saving Lighthouse Point” tells the story of the fight in Santa Cruz during the early 1970s against a massive development that sought to turn one of the city’s last open parcels of coastal land into a bustling tourist and business hub. Bolstered by the creation of the Coastal Commission, the citizens of Santa Cruz organized and challenged the city council’s support of the project, ultimately saving Lighthouse Point. The successful campaign not only came to stand as a testament to the Coastal Commission and its influence in many coastal communities, but also would prove a watershed moment in the history of Santa Cruz.

See all interviews

Related resources

Bill Lane: Sunset Publisher, Environmentalist, Ambassador

Joe Bodovitz: Founding Director of the Bay Conservation Development Commission and the California Coastal Commission

Michael L. Fischer: Oral History Interview with Michael L. Fischer, Executive Director, California Coastal Commission, 1978-85

Will "Trav" Travis: Leading Environmental Regulator for the Public Interest