Coasting Against the Law

Just How Many Times Have the Coastal Commissioners Met Privately with Developers?

<b>GOOD TRY: </b> State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson's bill to ban private talks with coastal commissions flamed out.
Paul Wellman (file)

SCHMOOZEFEST: I’d love to report that the California Coastal Commission is valiantly living up to the law requiring members to report when schmoozing with developers trying to influence them.

I’d love to, but I can’t.

Barney Brantingham

In fact, according to a new lawsuit, five commissioners have violated transparency rules no fewer than 590 times. By thumbing their nose at the law, they face possible fines running into the millions of dollars.

You scoff, and you have a right to. We all know that in the unlikely chance that all alleged violations are sustained, they will probably at best get a virtual slap on the wrist.

History has taught us that in Sacramento, where give-and-take (especially take) is the No. 1 rule, lobbyists have licenses to hunt. You interfere with lobbyists at your own risk.

Example: When Santa Barbara State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson had the temerity to author a bill banning private meetings between coastal commissioners and lobbyists, a shocked Assembly committee deep-sixed it fast, fast, fast. A big kiss-off.

Lobbyists and unions hit it hard. One of the few votes for it was Santa Barbara Assemblymember Das Williams.

Jackson’s plea was that it’s necessary to restore public confidence and trust in an embattled agency that oversees protection of the roughly 840 miles of California’s precious coast. But it turns out that too often the commissioners are foxes feasting on the coastal chickens.

Current law doesn’t ban contacts between developers, lobbyists, environmental groups, and anyone else with a stake in commission decisions, but commissioners are supposed to make detailed reports. The five sued by the small nonprofit Spotlight on Coastal Corruption were too arrogant to even bother with making reports.

In all, the lawsuit charges that commission chair Steve Kinsey racked up 140 violations, Mark Vargas had 150 violations, Wendy Mitchell had 120, Erik Howell 96, and Martha McClure 82. If all of Kinsey’s alleged violations are sustained, he would be in line for civil fines of $5,250,000.

The commission holds open meetings. Why would developers and lobbyists have to sneak around with whisper sessions? If a project is good, why not air out the reasons before the public?

BRANGELINA: In the past decade, actor-celebs Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, now splitsville, have been on more magazine covers than the bar code, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight website points out. The question Santa Barbarans are asking is who will get the couple’s $5 million beach house on the Gaviota Coast? “It’s one of the few places where there’s a residence on the beach,” one activist told me. A few years ago, a resident complained Pitt was driving on a nearby state beach, contrary to state law and risking environmental damage. Media reports said he was teaching his children to ride quad bikes.

HILLA-TRUMPEST: The Clinton-Trump race is so tight that people are speculating neither one may reach the Electoral College’s magic number of 270 votes needed to win the presidency.

What happens then? Well, assuming that the U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t pull one of its stunts, the whole shebang goes to (horrors!) the whacko House of un-Representatives. Each state’s Electoral College delegation gets one vote. The winner need not be the one who got the most popular votes. This has happened.

The House is now controlled by the Republicans, and the November election isn’t expected to change that. But at last report, FiveThirtyEight says it’s likely that the Democrats will wrest control of the Senate from the GOP — lot of good that will do.

All this ought to be enough to keep every civics class in Santa Barbara County hitting the books, at least trying to find out why the Founding Fathers entrusted presidential elections to such a seemingly crazy Electoral College system. Actually, it was a compromise while they were trying to invent a nation. They split the baby, and look what we got: a bastard.

Reformers have long been wailing about abolishing the Electoral College but to no avail. It’s a monster that won’t die, and those who benefit, like the small states, like things just the way they are.

REBUILDING LIVES: Attorney Larry Laborde was honored by DA Joyce Dudley, Mayor Helene Schneider, and hundreds of supporters of New House sober living facility for his 23 years on the board. Now, according to New House prez Jeff Daugherty, Laborde plans to retire from legal practice (why do they call it “practice”?) and move to peaceful Iowa. New House is celebrating “61 years of rebuilding lives,” Daugherty pointed out.


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