CA Coastal Commission Needs to Clean House

June, 2016


The power to decide the future of the California coast is currently in the hands of 12 commissioners, many of whom have proven to not have the best interests of the coast and the public in mind. Here is quick recap of the past four Coastal Commission hearings.

On February 10 in Morro Bay, the commissioners voted 7-5 to fire popular environmental champion and Executive Director Charles Lester, in a private session and without explaining their votes. The situation raised questions about the Commission’s intensions for the future of the coast.

Tension was still running high at the March hearing in Santa Monica. Social justice and environmental organizations and the public stood together, calling for transparency of the Commission and their formal inclusion in the hiring process of a new executive director.  A new Executive Director  was not hired that day, but they did appoint longtime, well-respected Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth to the interim executive director role.

At the April hearing in Santa Rosa, a full house protested a California State Parks proposal to charge new parking fees for four Sonoma Coast beaches, in attempt to generate funds for state parks. The proposal would limit beach access (especially to low-income residents) and create traffic hazards along Highway 1.

The commission ultimately decided to postpone the issue and keep working with State Parks to revise the proposal.

The most recent meeting in Newport Beach on May 12 was anticipated to be a showdown about a new mega-development Newport Banning Ranch, but was postponed last minute by the developer. The development would trade the largest privately owned coastal open-space parcel in Southern California for 895 residences, 45,100 square feet of retail space, a hotel, a 20-bed hostel, and two clusters of oil wells. The issue is likely to be pushed back to the September meeting, which was scheduled for Humboldt County.  This idea of the meeting being held at the opposite end of the state generated a huge public outcry. As a result, the meeting location was changed to Newport.

Our North Coast representative and Governor appointee, Martha McClure, has been making quite the name for herself (see page 8). According to the Coastal Commission Conservation Voting Chart of 2015 she has a conservation vote score of just 32 percent, and a high anti-conservation voting record. A recent article in the LA Times called attention to her  foul language and oddly close relationships with several developers and lobbyists, including former commissioner and lobbyist Susan McCabe.

The commissioner-lobbyist friendship theme includes  U2 guitarist David Evans, “The Edge,” who had been in a long battle with the Coastal Commission to build a home in Malibu, hired McCabe to manage his campaign. Commissioner Mark Vargas, met with The Edge personally after a U2 concert. The Commission approved the project  in December.

“Ex-parte” communications, private sessions between commissioners and interested parties are currently completely legal as long as commissioners report them, but it is clear they are effective in swaying commissioners votes. In an effort to eliminate these backroom deals and increase transparency, Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) introduced SB 1190, a bill that would prohibit all commissioner ex-parte communications. Commissioners supported this bill with a 6-5 vote (with McClure absent) at the Newport meeting and it will likely reach the Senate floor for a vote later this month.

Where has Governor Jerry Brown been during all this? He has failed to comment on any Coastal Commission related matter—which is particularly strange given his power over the Commission and that the Coastal Act took effect during his first term as governor. Steve Lopez’s article and call to action in the LA Times;  “Gov. Brown, notice anything fishy about your Coastal Commission?” is an interesting read.

Call Governor Brown at 916-445-2841 and tell him there’s no place on the Commission for commissioners willing to sell out California’s coast.