The California Coastal Commission has not been co-opted by the moneyed coastal real estate developers that it regulates. At least not yet.
Everything could change if the Commission fires its executive director, Charles Lester — an action they will consider at their February meeting in Morro Bay. Those commissioners who are leading the charge against Lester have said that he has been administratively deficient, while denying that they are clearing the deck for coastal development. Lester responded in his year-end report to the Commission by summarizing the long list of accomplishments during his tenure, and requesting that the public have the opportunity to weigh in before the Commission acts on his termination.
There is a Santa Barbara connection to this issue that illuminates an example of a rogue Coastal Commission’s process and Lester’s integrity and leadership.
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy was party to an appeal to the Coastal Commission asking that the Commission find “substantial Issues” allowing it to review S. B. County’s approval of the Paradiso del Mare development on the Gaviota Coast. At the hearing in April 2014 the Commission ignored its commitment to open government by severely truncating public testimony, denying dozens of people supporting the appeal, including technical experts for the appellants, the opportunity to speak.
After the close of the very limited public testimony, the Commissioners deliberated the merits of a review of the development. Just before the vote, the Chair of the Commission stated that the developer had offered new project modifications if the Commission did not undertake a review. These new modifications were news to us and breached the well-understood and legal requirement of properly noticing, in advance, issues of material importance so the public could be informed.
Lester stated that the action the Commission was engaged in was highly unusual and recommended that the commissioners take jurisdiction over the project and make changes to it to address the myriad project inconsistencies with our County Coastal Plan.
The Commission voted 7-4 to find no “substantial issues” and not review the project. We appellants have filed a law suit against the Coastal Commission on this tawdry affair.
But wait, there’s more. During a pause in the voting, one of the Commissioners who ultimately voted against a finding of substantial issues can be heard on an inadvertently open mic — referring to the impending Commission action’s impact on local environmental community — saying “Blow their minds; let’s blow their f*ing minds.”
Lester was the only adult on the dais with the integrity and presence of mind to formulate a fair and legal path to the hearing of this issue. His insight and integrity was ignored.
The hearing on the firing of Lester will take place on February 10, in Morro Bay. Public testimony is encouraged, and will be followed by closed-door deliberations on the fate of our coast. Comments to the Coastal Commission can be directed to StatusOfExecutiveDirector@coastal.ca.gov.
Phil McKenna is president of the Board of Directors of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy .