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John Campbell

John Campbell (R-Irvine) is an Assemblyman representing the 70th District in Orange County. Mr. Campbell is the Vice-Chairman of the Assembly Budget Committee. He is the only CPA in the California State legislature and recently received a national award as Freshman Republican Legislator of the Year. He represents the cities of Newport Beach, Laguna Beach, Irvine, Costa Mesa, Tustin, Aliso Viejo, Laguna Woods and Lake Forest. He can be reached through his Assembly website and through the website for his California Senate campaign.

Control not Conservation
A local little guy vs. the California Coastal Commission
[John Campbell] 6/17/03

He is an unusual and atypical warrior in the fight against the tyranny of government in California. His name is Rodolphe Streichenberger. The unusual name and the heavy accent a testimony to his upbringing in the long disputed Alsace/Lorraine provinces of what is now France. But now, he lives in Balboa and is President and Founder of the Marine Forests Society. This group is a charitable organization dedicated to restoring, replenishing and growing underwater marine habitat off the Coast of Orange County and elsewhere.

Mr. Steichenberger (Let’s call him Mr. S to save on printer’s ink from now on) is joined by distinguished professors and scientists from Universities including CalTech in his quest to find economical and effective ways to repopulate plant life and thereby fish of our coast. As Mr. S sees it, much of the waters off of our coast have become barren sandy bottomed aquatic wastelands devoid of the rich plant and animal life that once flourished there. Whether for commercial or sport fishing, cleaning the ocean water, or just plain conservation purposes, we will benefit from that restoration.

But this costs money. So, the Marine Forests Society came up with several unique and inexpensive ways to create artificial reefs on the sandy bottoms to which plant life can cling and a new aquatic environment blossoms. These involve the use of plastic piping and old tires refashioned to make these reefs. Old tires you say? That’s right. The Society has taken something that is an environmental hazard on land and turned it into and environmental benefit at sea. That is only one of the several methods they have used. But the point is that they work right off our coastline and they are very cheap and easy to do.

So does this unassuming scientist and founder of an environmental organization dedicated to preserving the coast sound like someone who would be in conflict with the California Coastal Commission? How can that be, you say? Isn’t Mr. S doing exactly what the California Coastal Commission wants to be done? If you think the answer to that is yes, than you do not understand the California Coastal Commission (Let’s call them CCC for short).

Mr. S is doing what the CCC should want to do, but that is not what the CCC does. The people thought they were voting to protect the coastline when they authorized the creation of the CCC in 1976. But what they created instead was an enormously powerful and abusive organization that has been the subject of numerous scandals and shakedowns. It has never been about conservation. It is only about power.

The Act creating the CCC says that you cannot place “any solid material or structure” on land or sea within its jurisdiction without a permit. Ask any coastal resident who has discovered the necessity of a state CCC permit for such things as installing a backyard umbrella, putting up a patio cover, fencing in a garden, or growing avocados rather than grapes. The CCC says that a city can avoid these things by getting a local plan adopted by the commission. But the City of Newport Beach has been unable to acquire approval of such a plan after more than a decade of trying. In many cases the CCC has extracted things from the property owners in exchange for granting such grace. None of these has anything to do with coastal conservation on already developed land. But the CCC regularly denies such permits to wield punishment to political enemies and reward political friends.

One of those denials was issued to the Marine Forests Society when they wanted to create more aquatic habitat off the coast of Newport Beach. The City of Newport was all for it. It made so much sense. But the CCC turned Mr. S down. You see, the CCC has spent millions of your dollars on mitigation efforts off of the San Onofre nuclear power station. Hot water from the plant has killed off the vegetation on the sea bottom. But the CCC’s efforts are expensive and don’t work. Mr. S says his are cheap and work. But he is not part of the cartel of power that supports the CCC so he is rejected while others continue to spend money on failed efforts.

But Mr. S did not either quietly go away or pay the appropriate homage (or money) to CCC commissioners. No. He took them to court. He alleged that the CCC violates the separation of powers in that it has executive, legislative and judicial powers in one agency. In other words, it is judge, jury and executioner. Both a trial court judge and an appeals court have said he is correct.

The power structure in the state Legislature rapidly cobbled together legislation to “correct” the deficiency identified by the court. But Mr. S will be challenging that too in the California Supreme Court.

Mr. S does not stand to make a fortune off of this decision. He is not doing it for punitive damages. He just wants to protect the environment of the Coast of Orange County where he lives. But by so doing, he has challenged the power structure and the very existence of one of the most abusive agencies of California government (the other being the California Franchise Tax Board – a story for another day). And he has made himself and his organization a target.

We can all hope that this time, the little guy and the environment will win. And the power abusers that use environmental causes to mask their quest to restrict freedom, will lose.



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