Peter Douglas, longtime California Coastal Commission executive director and coauthor of the California Coastal Act, announced last week he is stepping down from his position after 26 years at the helm. Known as a strong opponent to development and a fierce devotee of protecting the state’s 1,100 miles of coastline, Douglas has been fighting lung cancer for some time. “He’s been a huge force,” said recently appointed Coastal Commissioner Jana Zimmer, who resides in Santa Barbara.
Coastal Commission staff members haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with county representatives, most recently during the county’s update of the Land Use Development Code. With the departure of Douglas, some are hoping that fresh leadership could lead to more creativity and flexibility in attempting to apply the Coastal Act to different communities, with the understanding that a broad cookie-cutter approach to California’s coastline works differently in different communities.
But while there have been differences, there is also a lot of respect for Douglas and what he’s done over the years. Former Coastal Commissioner Dan Secord called Douglas a “wonderful guy, a charming street fighter who is the soul of the Coastal Act.” “He’s a legend for his work,” said 3rd District Supervisor Doreen Farr. Zimmer said she is beginning to think about what qualities she’ll seek in the next executive director, but that the Coastal Commission won’t be discussing a replacement until next month. For now, Senior Deputy Director Charles Lester will take the lead. Whoever it is will no doubt become quickly familiar with Santa Barbara County, as developments like the Miramar Hotel and La Entrada — as well as the Gaviota Coast, the last and longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in Southern California and most environmentally important seaside swath in the state — remain in the public eye.