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New Coastal Commissioner Meagan Harmon discusses sea level rise and offshore wind energy

Courtesy of Santa Barbara City Council
Meagan Harmon has been a Santa Barbara City Councilmember since 2019 and was appointed to the California Coastal Commission as a South Central Coast Representative May 4.

The Southern Central Coast has a new Coastal Commissioner. Meagan Harmon discussed some of her priorities for the coast including sea level rise, offshore wind energy and the decision to phase out off-highway vehicles at Oceano Dunes.

Since being appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on May 4, Harmon has been preparing to address local coastal issues, specifically focusing on preparing coastal communities for sea level rise.

“We know it’s coming, coastal communities have known, we anticipate this, we understand the potential impacts are so severe for our coastal communities,” Harmon said.

Harmon said the rising sea level is her biggest priority as a coastal commissioner.

“We live in a coastal community and we have to deal with this. It’s become very real for me in this moment where I look at my young children and think, ‘This is not academic anymore,” Harmon said. “This could not be more real, and the science tells us, we don’t have 10 or 15 years to wait to plan for it. We have to plan for it now.”

According to a 2019 report from the United Nations, the world has less than 10 years to reduce carbon emissions by more than 75% in order to avoid extreme, irreversible climate change.

One potential solution to sea level rise that Harmon plans to address is offshore wind energy and balancing that with the concerns of local commercial fishermen.

“In my view, the only path forward is to bring out local commercial fishermen into the conversation as early and as often as possible,” Harmon said. “So, it’s going to be about managing a number of stakeholders, agencies, engagement and just making sure we don’t leave anyone out.”

While it is unclear at the moment whether or not the Coastal Commission will have the jurisdiction to implement offshore wind energy, since it is federal land, Harmon said coastal infrastructure is definitely something she is interested in pursuing.

Harmon also said offshore wind energy could be a great opportunity for the Central Coast.

There’s so much potential there,” Harmon said. “This is an opportunity for us to do one of these projects in a way that actually bears out our commitment to just transition.”

In terms of the commission’s recent decision to phase out vehicular use at Oceano Dunes, Harmon said teamwork is key in order to move forward.

“This is a big chance,” Harmon said. “It’s an all-hands-on-deck moment, and to me, all parties need to be involved in the conversation.”

Though Harmon was not yet a part of the commission when this decision was made, she said she trusts the intention of the commission.

“I absolutely believe very strongly that the intention behind the decision of my fellow coastal commissioners at that time was to protect the natural environment, to protect the surrounding communities, to make sure that environmental justice was centered,” Harmon said. “That was what was driving the decision, I believe.”

Harmon was appointed to her seat on the Santa Barbara City Council in 2019, and she is running for re-election this November.

Her ability to continue to serve on the Coastal Commission is dependent on her position on the council, meaning that if she loses reelection, she will no longer serve on the Coastal Commission.

Sophie Lincoln is a journalism senior at Cal Poly, working to pursue a career in broadcast news. She is also the News Director for Cal Poly’s KCPR and the Special Sections Editor for Cal Poly’s Mustang News. In her spare time, she likes to hike, go to the beach and spend time with friends.
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