The most common question I’ve been asked about the statewide Controller race this election year is the same question I get every four years. “Wait, we have one?”
The inevitable follow-up question: “What does this person do?” Down-ballot races in California’s state election can seem like a tedious part of a the voting process. Most of us just don't take the time to research them. In 2010, the last time we elected statewide executives, 435,308 of those people who voted for Governor just didn’t bother to vote for anybody in the Controller race.
But in addition to being the chief fiscal officer of the 8th-largest economy in the world, the Controller sits on something like 80 state commissions and boards. And if you’re interested in California’s environment, a biggie there is the State Lands Commission.
The State Lands Commission oversees roughly 4 million acres of submerged land and tidelands, holding them in trust for the public. Right now it's looking at policy alternatives to respond to sea level rise. It manage the state's offshore oil-drilling leases. It even gets authority over historical shipwrecks!
Three issues coming before to the Lands Commission mean the Controller matters:
- Coastal Access and Martin’s Beach: At the end of September, Governor Jerry Brown signed a law requiring the State Lands Commission to negotiate with Vinod Khlosa, a private property owner who famously shut down coastal access over his land this year. The commission has all of next year to negotiate with Khlosa. If no deal is reached, it can use eminent domain authority to force public access – something that would represent a big break in historical practice, because that authority hasn’t ever been used in the 76 years that the commission has existed.
- Malibu’s Broad Beach has been rapidly eroding under pressure of waves and storms worsened by climate change, and very rich homeowners there have been seeking to add sand in front of their houses to combat the risk of damage to very expensive properties. Earlier this year, those homeowners successfully completed an application to the State Lands Commission, and the commission was expected to decide on it in October. The decision’s been put over till after the election.
- Fracking: Offshore oil made news late last year and earlier this year when some operators didn’t report that they were using drilling and production techniques collectively referred to as hydraulic fracturing. The news prompted the EPA to require chemical disclosures for drilling operations it oversees. The state agencies that should be overseeing these issues – the Coastal Commission and the Lands Commission – are considering their next moves too.