It’s been 50 years since California voters passed Proposition 20, which led to the creation of the California Coastal Commission (CCC). Now, for the first time, the commission is overseen by a woman.
Kate Huckelbridge was named the Executive Director of the CCC. It is her job to lead the effort to protect, conserve, and restore the roughly 1,100 miles of California coastline.
The commission is made up of 12 members who are appointed by the governor and State Legislature. It maintains a budget of about $30 million with a 170-person staff.
“It’s exciting to be the first woman. We have so many women and people of color on our staff. I’m just excited for this new era and making our agency more diverse and more like the state it represents,” Huckelbridge said.
Hucklebridge has worked at the CCC since 2009. Originally from the Midwest, she came to California for grad school and fell in love with the people and landscape of the state.
“The coastal commission was created from a desire of the public to protect these important places and I found that so inspiring and I really wanted to be a part of it,” Huckelbridge said.
The CCC is the only state agency that was formed by a public referendum. In 1972, coastal advocates wanted to prevent private developments limiting the public’s access to the state’s shoreline.
“We are here because of the public. Back in the ‘70s when activists were concerned — it started in the San Francisco Bay — but statewide concern about the loss of habitat and filling of the bay and other areas for development,” Huckelbridge said.
In contrast to a lot of public agency, she sees the biggest accomplishments as not what new projects that have been built, but those that weren’t.
“The coast is never saved. It’s always in the process of being saved, and some of the commission’s greatest accomplishments are the developments that were never built. The many projects that were never built — hotels right on the beach. Things of that nature that would have limited access,” Huckelbridge said.
Climate change is the biggest challenge Huckelbridge and the CCC faces. The key is going to be figuring out how the state will work to adapt.
“One of the biggest issues is sea level rise, and we have been working diligently with local governments, with other state agencies, with communities to work through how to plan for that,” Huckelbridge said.” It’s really hard. It’s a really hard thing to do. It’s politically difficult… there are legal challenges, but it’s paramount that we figure out how to do it and that is sort of where we’re headed and where we’re really focused on.”
Being the first female director of the CCC, another issue Huckelbridge said she wants to focus on is how the commission itself can be more inclusive and create more opportunities for people who have been marginalized.
“We have a long history of supporting equity but we still have a lot of work to do and are really trying to figure out how to do that more directly with our work now,” Huckelbridge emphasized.
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