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Sen. Wiener Alters Position on SF Coastal Boundary to Balance Housing and Conservation

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A surfer walks along a sandy path leading from Ocean Beach to the Great Highway and the Sunset District in San Francisco on Feb. 14, 2024. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

Moving the coastal zone boundary in San Francisco to the Great Highway is now off the table, announced State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) on Wednesday.

After weeks of negotiations with the California Coastal Commission and the San Francisco City Planning Department over housing construction in Western San Francisco, Wiener decided to alter Senate Bill 951, which would have pushed the coastal zone away from San Francisco neighborhoods.

“I believe we have struck a solid balance here,” he said in a press release.

The bill would have removed urban San Francisco from the protections of the California Coastal Commission, which enforces the California Coastal Act, one of the state’s most cherished pieces of environmental law.

The agency regulates land and water use in the coastal zone. Although the boundary varies, in San Francisco, it rides the coast and extends a few blocks into the city — including developing and preparing this area for rising sea levels.

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Wiener said the bill would have aided the city’s efforts to meet state housing goals by refining the commission’s role in housing approvals and permitting.

But Wiener has changed his tone on the issue.

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The updated bill will progress with other provisions — but is subject to change as it moves through the Legislature — which includes aligning local coastal planning with state housing element law. He said protecting the coast and meeting the city’s housing needs “do not need to be mutually exclusive.”

Wiener’s original bill, backed by San Francisco Mayor London Breed, drew criticism from the commission, environmental justice advocates and San Francisco Board of Supervisors members. The commission declined to comment on the new iteration of the bill.

Board President Aaron Peskin said the bill’s first iteration set a dangerous precedent and signaled to “developers that they can go to their state senator and start chopping apart one of California’s most cherished pieces of law.”

He applauds Wiener for removing language from his bill that would alter the coastal zone and said the “wrongheaded attempt to gut” the California Coastal Act could have been avoided.

“I’m happy to see that they’ve finally seen the light,” he said.

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