The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission – created by the Legislature in 1965 to regulate development to protect the bay’s health and ensure public access – has “neglected its responsibility and … struggled to perform key responsibilities,” the state auditor reported May 14.
The taxpayer-funded agency, which consists of 27 commissioners and 48 staff members, has authority to issue permits for certain actions, including placing material in the bay or removing material from it, and is responsible for ensuring that permit holders comply with the terms of their permits and with state law. The commission has the ability to enforce compliance through fines and penalties.
Among the problems cited by the auditor:
Commission employees spend years attempting to resolve violations before referring them to the commissioners for enforcement action, amassing a backlog of 230 cases, some more than a decade old.
The commissioners are considering amnesty for some of the violators in these cases, “even though they may represent ongoing harm to the Bay.”
“The commissioners have not provided sufficient leadership and guidance for their enforcement process and have improperly delegated their enforcement authority to staff.”
The commission has not assessed the implementation of a plan to safeguard the Suisun Marsh, as state law requires, increasing the possibility of harm to the marsh.
The commission’s approach to identifying individual violations has led to inconsistencies in its imposition of fines.
The commission’s new system for scoring and prioritizing cases is too complex to accomplish this goal effectively.
“When we reviewed seven cases for which the commission had initiated formal enforcement, we found that the cases had been open between one and 17 years – or seven and a half years on average – before staff referred them to the commissioners,” the auditor wrote. “During these years, the commission essentially allowed the harm resulting from the violations to continue unresolved.”
From October 2011 through June 2016, the commission’s enforcement committee did not meet to hear enforcement cases. “As a result, staff handled all cases, including some that could cause significant harm to the Bay, during that period of time,” the auditor reported.