The California Coastal Commission has to weigh in on most land use and public access issues along the coast statewide. But this year it took some decisions a step further, weighing in on issues that some consider an overreach of its power and making many people wonder, “What exactly is the Coastal Commission and can it actually do that?”

The commission’s decisions this year have forced us to reckon once again with the fate of SeaWorld and the role affordability plays when we say we want the public to have access to the beach. It has been slapped with a few lawsuits this year charging overreaches of its power. That includes a decision to ban orca breeding at SeaWorld and a decision to block a hotel project in efforts to provide affordable lodging along the coast.

Voice of the YearIn an interview with the L.A. Times, Coastal Commissioner Dayna Bochco – who proposed the amendment that would phase out orca breeding – said: “Land use is one part of our job, but we also have a great responsibility to these sensitive species. So when someone wants to develop something, and we see that it’s going to interfere with sensitive habitat, we say no. That’s what’s going on here. This wasn’t about exerting power; this was about what the law allows us to do and what’s the right thing to do.”

The move not only revived a conversation about animal rights, but of SeaWorld’s financial future, which has been experiencing a downfall since “Blackfish” debuted. SeaWorld’s future is huge to San Diego – the park hires thousands of San Diegans and pays the city millions in rent.

The Coastal Commission was also sued this year by the San Diego Unified Port District for turning down a 175-room hotel project on Harbor Island. The Coastal Commission’s decision had to do with its efforts to enforce affordable housing on the coast. Right now, only 3 percent of hotels along California’s coast are deemed affordable, the Coastal Commission wants this number to get up to 25 percent, according to the Union-Tribune.

While future decisions may not get us talking about whale sex, the agency will continue to have a voice in controversial coastal land-use decisions. It has the final ruling on Rick Caruso’s mall in Carlsbad, even after the project goes to the voters in February, and will likely review the Rose Canyon Fisheries project, which would create the largest fish farm in America off San Diego’s coast.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, profiling the people who drove the biggest conversations in San Diego this year.

    This article relates to: News, Voice of the Year

    Written by Maya Srikrishnan

    Maya Srikrishnan is a reporter for Voice of San Diego. She can be reached at maya.srikrishnan@voiceofsandiego.org.

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