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Commentary

California’s Whale Of A Tale In Bad Government



People come from far and wide to see killer whales perform at SeaWorld San Diego, where Shamu delighted audiences for many years. As SeaWorld seeks to expand, activists seek to shut it down by leveraging the state’s regulatory zealots.

SeaWorld falls within the jurisdiction of the California Coastal Commission (CCC), an unelected body that overrides the elected governments of coastal counties and cities on issues of land use and property rights.

SeaWorld wants to expand current facilities with a 450,000-gallon pool and a 5.2-million-gallon tank for the whales, known as orcas. But as Hugo Martin and Samantha Masunaga of the Los Angeles Times note, the CCC wants “to ban captive breeding of the park’s killer whales as a condition of building a much larger $100 million holding facility.”

So the unelected CCC is now expanding into animal management. The ban on captive breeding would effectively kill off the entire Orca program, Sea World’s biggest draw. This is the outcome that animal rights activists seek. A better target for elimination would be the Coastal Commission itself.

This agency manages to combine Stalinist regulation with Mafia-style corruption. Back in the 1990s CCC commissioner Mark Nathanson told Hollywood celebrities that as a condition of building their new swimming pools they needed to pay him thousands of dollars in bribes.

Nathanson was duly busted and served nearly five years in prison. In 2011 longtime CCC boss Peter Douglas, said that several other Commissioners might deserve similar treatment, though he declined to mention any names. This type of corruption, however, is hardly the Commission’s only problem.

By running roughshod over property rights and blocking development, the Commission has made coastal residency a practical impossibility for working Californians. The rigid restrictions force development to hotter inland areas, where energy demands are much higher.

For those already on the coast, the CCC imposes a draconian permitting process that makes the slightest alteration a bureaucratic nightmare. The onus is on property owners to show why their project should proceed, not on the Commission to show why it should not. And Commissioners need never face the voters.

The California Coastal Commission dates from the first go-round of governor Jerry Brown during the 1970s. It was supposed to be a temporary body but in typical style the state made it permanent. State courts sometimes had the temerity to rule against the CCC, so the Commission lobbied for the power to levy fines directly. On governor Jerry Brown’s current watch, they got that power.

When informed that the new span of the Bay Bridge, $5 billion over budget and 10 years late, also had serious safety issues, Governor Jerry Brown famously said “shit happens.” Even so, the sanctimonious Brown, a former presidential and senatorial candidate, is unwilling to clean up his own mess.

In the governor’s view of progress, government always gets bigger, not smaller. Government progressively becomes more intrusive, more expensive, and less responsive to the people.

The voters, taxpayers and duly elected governments of coastal counties and cities are entirely capable of overseeing land-use and environmental concerns. The city of San Diego and San Diego County are fully capable of dealing with SeaWorld’s expansion plans.

Meanwhile, if animal-rights activists dislike SeaWorld’s practices, they should vote with their wallets and stay away.


K. Lloyd Billingsley is Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and author of the Independent Briefing, California Water: A Case Study of Bureaucracy Versus Tradable, Private Water Rights.






  • MyGovCost.org
  • FDAReview.org
  • OnPower.org
  • elindependent.org