Streamlining Coastal Permitting for Public Works

Public Works Plans (PWPs) are an innovative — but little known approach — to streamlining California Coastal Commission permitting for qualifying public projects.

A PWP provides a comprehensive permit vehicle for obtaining Commission approval of large or phased public works projects in place of the usual project-by-project permit application process.

Time and expense savings are significant for projects that will be phased in over several years; have multiple components; overlap several jurisdictions; or are controversial and likely subject to an extensive appeal process by local decision makers and the Commission, said April Winecki, Dudek’s specialist for coastal planning.

A certified PWP remains under the Commission’s authority regardless of coastal permit jurisdictional boundaries. The project owner need file only a notice of impending development to implement a specific project. The Commission’s review is limited to ensuring project consistency with the approved PWP, instead of the more typical project-by-project consistency review required under certified local coastal programs and/or the California Coastal Act.

PWPs are designed for ambitious projects, such as the coastal permitting for improvements to parks, open space, trails, and wildlife habitat on 1,700 acres in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Dudek was hired by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (Conservancy) and Malibu Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) to prepare both a PWP and Local Coastal Program Amendment (LCPA). Dudek also prepared technical and environmental studies to support the PWP and LCPA review and approval process.

The application was only the third new PWP approved by the Commission in the last 10 years, and was supported by a unique LCPA override process. Approval of the PWP means:

  • The Conservancy, MRCA, and involved public entities have a significantly higher degree of certainty regarding long-term project development
  • The possibility of potential project appeals is eliminated
  • The need to coordinate permit processing through separate jurisdictions is eliminated
  • The need to process numerous coastal development permits for individual and potentially non-contiguous properties is eliminated
  • Consistency is provided for future project review, analysis, processing, and implementation pursuant to the PWP, which remains under the authority of the Commission irrespective of coastal permit jurisdictional boundaries.

When Your Project Might Benefit From a PWP
A PWP can be complex and technically challenging to assemble. It is important to assess at the start whether your project can benefit from a PWP. Multi-phase and multi-year public works projects benefit the most from PWPs, which provide assurances for full project build-out and consistency in planning, analyzing, and permitting large, complicated, and often controversial public projects.

Under the Coastal Act, the following projects are defined as public works and could qualify for a PWP:

  • All production, storage, transmission, and recovery facilities for water, sewerage, telephone, and other similar utilities owned or operated by any public agency or by any utility subject to the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission, except for energy facilities
  • All public transportation facilities, including streets, roads, highways, public parking lots and structures, ports, harbors, airports, railroads, mass transit facilities and stations, bridges, trolley wires, and other related facilities
  • All publicly financed recreational facilities, all projects of the State Coastal Conservancy, and any development by a special district
  • All community college facilities
  • Publicly funded projects
  • Regionally significant or major public projects serving a regional purpose.