Monday, March 29, 2010

Is language part of the environment?

The earth and its non-human life forms need, as the saying goes, a good lawyer.

Is a party a development?
Nonetheless, the language that we mutually use to navigate our human interactions is also part of our environment, and this last week a state appeals court case Gualala Festivals Committee v California Coastal Commission in my view trashed the environment of the English language to protect some startled cormorants.

The case arose when, presumably on the strength of concern that the event had ruffled the feathers of some local seabirds, the Commission decided that a Fourth of July fireworks display in Gualala California, was a “development” subject to licensure by them (the Commission, not the birds).

Sometimes, I have imagined going before a jury with a nice cheesy pizza and slowly pulling apart two slices and explaining that while the cheese retains its shape and attachment, you may still be speaking the truth if you say you have only one piece. But as the cheese stretches and sags your argument becomes more and more tenuous. Finally when there is only a long stretchy shred connecting them, or they have separated entirely, then the “truth” is that they are no longer the same piece of pizza, and any argument otherwise is dishonest. In the Gualala case the shred was thin to the point of invisibility connecting a single traditional Independence Day celebration with the kind of “development” for which the Coastal Commission is supposed to issue or withhold permits. If a one-time noisy celebration of a political event, must be permitted by the Coastal Commission then any human activity near the coast, particularly a loud political demonstrations, could theoretically be subject to such permitting or a cease and desist order if not obtained.

Fireworks used to scare the heck out of my dog, and no doubt some birds would be alarmed. I don't doubt they pollute the air for at least an evening, but fireworks regulation should be decided by political process, not by courts adding unintended meanings to common words in order to protect the natural environment.

But add 73,500 feet to a shopping center....
In contrast with the above case: an appellate court case reported today, Melom v. City of Madera, hacked away at the usual meaning of the flexible but common word "substantial" to diminish environmental protection. A state appellate court decided that expansion of a mega store in a shopping mall by 73,500 square feet,-fifty-nine percent bigger than had been approved under the project's Environmental Impact Report- was not a “substantial change" that would require major revisions of the environmental impact report.”


  1. DEVELOPMENT now is defined as placing wooden boxes (used to hold the morters) on the ground on PRIVATE PROPERTY for a period of 15 minutes.
    And gas waste (humans exhale gas waste) was conidered another reason. however building houses at the Sea Ranch ON THE BLUFF OVERLOOKING THE SAME HABITAT was considered ok
    Go figure and get ready to see all the fireworks on the coast classified as DEVELOPMENT and subject to Coastal Commission.
    Gualala got approvals from local coastal commission permit authortiesm fire department and State fire marshal - all were usurped by the CCC
    Rule of law? Go figure

  2. You folks are over the edge off kilter. The Coastal Commission has long regulated events that have the potential to harm coastal resources or impact or change the use or intensity of use of the coast -- that is the Coastal Act definition of 'development.'

    How do you think 100,000 person events - professional volleyball contests et al - are regulated??

    This case had no merit whatsoever from the get go. It was a typical Pacific Legal Foundation loser, where they solicit unhappy uniformed misfortunates and convince them the CCC is some evil doer that only PLF can undermine. It NEVER works, the cases are dogs, and the poor yahoos wanting to blow up birds on July 4 are as much victims as the birds themselves. PLF should have their 'nonprofit' standing revoked. When the last time they did anything in the 'public interest'?? Never!

  3. Just another nutty blogger spouting off about a case without learning anything about the issues involved.

    Wouldn't a competent lawyer be able to recognize the importance of defining words as used in the Coastal Act and explain why the normal definition was inadequate?

    Unless, of course, that same attorney preys on the same boobs as the PLF.