Tsunami of Opposition Meets Move to Oust Coastal Commission Head of Staff

by on February 8, 2016 · 2 comments

in California, Civil Rights, Culture, Environment, Health, History, Media, Ocean Beach, Organizing, Politics, San Diego

tsunamiShowdown Looms for Feb. 10th-12th at Commission Monthly Hearing

A virtual tsunami of opposition has met the move on the California Coastal Commission to oust the head of its staff, Charles Lester. The move – called “a coup” by environmentalists – is an attempt by the pro-development clique of commissioners to remove Lester who is the Executive Director.

And the move is in the middle of a key decision by the Commission on the fate of a huge development project near Newport Beach of million dollar mansions.

Lester’s fate is supposed to be decided at their monthly meeting, to be held this month in Morro Bay on February 10th through 12th.  Here’s our initial post on the controversy.

But the tsunami or storm of opposition unleashed by the attempted coup may very well be powerful enough to crush this effort to make the Commission more-developer friendly at the very state agency that is supposed to guard California’s coast. Consider these elements of the storm:

  • today’s LA Times Editorial
  • 16 Democratic legislators sent Gov. Brown letter warning him not to fire Lester,
  • 76 environmental groups,
  • the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors
  • 35 former commission members and
  • 153 current staffers

– have all called on the Commission to halt this effort to remove Lester.  They say, according to the LA Time editorial –

 there’s nothing wrong with [Lester’s] job performance and make a persuasive case that the move to oust him is a power grab by pro-development forces that are threatening to undercut 40 years of Coastal Commission stewardship that, while imperfect, has left the coast much less developed and more accessible to the public than it otherwise would have been.

Plus the LA Times is applying pressure on Jerry Brown:

Brown should lean on his appointees to drop the matter. Unless, of course, they are doing exactly what he wants them to, in which case the shame is his.

Despite his reputation for environmental action, Brown has a fractious history with the Coastal Commission — he described the staff as “bureaucratic thugs” when they insisted that houses being rebuilt after the devastating 1978 Malibu fire provide the legally required coastal access for the public.

Still, signing the California Coastal Act was a laudable part of Brown’s considerable environmental legacy, and it would a shame if he were now to become known as the governor who let the pro-development foxes guard the coastal henhouse.

Who’s Behind Coup?

So who’s behind the coup to oust Charles Lester? Environmentalists and Commission observers point to Gov. Jerry Brown’s four appointees on the commission, Wendy Mitchell, Martha McClure, Effie Turnbull-Sanders and Erik Howell. (Appointees of the governor serve at the governor’s pleasure.)

Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, coastal preservation director for the Surfrider Foundation, stated:

“It’s hard to tell exactly who initiated [Lester’s employment review] but we’ve been scouring their votes, and the governor’s appointees from Southern California are the worst. We believe the lead on this is coming out of Southern California.”

According to Capitol Weekly:

Three conservationist groups — the Surfrider Foundation, WildCoast, and Environment California — collaborate on ActCoastal, a project that grades Coastal Commissioners according to their votes on selected environmental issues. The ratings reflect the percentage of votes that the groups consider pro-environment and pro-conservation.

At the end of 2015, … Three of the four gubernatorial appointees — Mitchell, Turnbull-Sanders, and McClure — bottomed out the chart, along with Speaker appointee Gregory Cox [a San Diego County Supervisor]. Mitchell and Turnbull-Sanders received ratings of 33 percent, while Cox and McClure received a 32 percent grade.

The SD Reader confirmed Cox’s dismal record:

…San Diego’s commissioner, county supervisor Greg Cox ties for the worst with appointee Martha McClure. Both counted out as voting two thirds of the time against coastal conservation and public interests.

The Reader also put the spotlight on Brown appointee Wendy Mitchell:

Many sources point to appointee Wendy Mitchell as a point of origin for what they call “the coup.” Mitchell represents clients including PG&E and Carollo, which builds desalination plants, among other things. She also represents infill developers Combined Properties, according to her website.

Earlier this year, Mitchell posted a picture of herself with U2 guitarist “the Edge” on Facebook, after the coastal commission hearing where his five-house compound atop one of the last undeveloped ridges in Malibu was finally approved.  Former commission executive director called the original project “one of the three worst projects I’ve ever seen in terms of environmental devastation.”

On Facebook, Mitchell lamented “I’m only sorry it took them 10 years to get approval on their home.”

We here are now hoping that the spotlight that many of us have been shining on these Brown appointees will support those who mobilize for Morro Bay and assist them to crush the coup against the Coast.

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Frank Gormlie February 10, 2016 at 12:35 pm

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