The largest threat to California's coast in 40 years

Words by Morgan Williamson 

The gold mine that is the California coast is in peril. Currently, it's overseen by the California Coastal Commission's (CCC) Executive Director, Charles Lester. Mr Lester's been a champion in keeping our coast from overdevelopment, but money’s loud and after a closed door hearing on what the LA Times called “vague performance issues,” Lester was given an ultimatum. "Dr. Lester was notified in a personal letter on the 14th January, that the panel, 'will consider whether to dismiss you,' and gave him a choice of stepping aside and aiding in a transition, or opting for a public hearing on his future.” According to the article by the LA times, “He chose the hearing, which ensures that the development tug of war will become the subject of public debate at a meeting scheduled for 10th February in Morro Bay.”

For Californians this is a huge problem, it’s not just about saving Trestles from the toll road, it’s all 840 miles of the coast. You see, four decades ago the California Coastal Act of 1976 was set in place by the CCC, an independent state agency who’s purpose is to protect, conserve, restore and enhance the coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable use, today, tomorrow and for future generations. In short they protect our right to the beaches and ocean. From the bike paths, parking lots, PCH and out to sea, they make sure that shit stays yours. The beach is public, it’s beautiful, it’s what keeps the Golden State golden. Without it we’d be Arizona, or something.

E33Q2914 The sunset glimmers over a dreamy scene in Newport Beach.

The CCC’s been under direct fire for years with efforts to weaken and disband the commission, by real estate investors and lobbyists. The “performance issues” under scrutiny are not the issue of keeping the coast free from overdevelopment, they’re the opposite. Dr Lester has done too good a job at not approving major developmental projects and keeping CA’s coast their own, therefore something must be done with him. In essence this is a coup to appoint an Executive Director with a political agenda opposed to a public one. "The move to oust Dr. Lester, a low-key but conservation-minded attorney who has headed the agency since 2011,” states the article in the LA times, “is being led by pro-development members of the panel, including Gov. Brown's four appointees -- Effie Turnbull-Sanders, Wendy Mitchell, Martha McClure and Erik Howell -- according to sources who requested anonymity."

“The most pro-development commissioners,” the Surfrider foundation posted to their webpage, “with the worst environmental voting records are attempting a coup to weaken the Commission’s ability to protect the public’s coast and undermine the integrity of the Coastal Program.” Gov Jerry Brown, who’s had a long record of standing behind environmental causes, and ironically signed the Coastal Act, has remained silent on the issue. However, it is being led by four of his appointees.

Ian_14063909 Ian Crane making the most out of the Santa Ana winds. Photo: Quinn Matthews

There’s enough coastal maturation in California, Southern California especially. There’s no need for more beachside manors in cushy gated communities, that sit unoccupied by Texan oil tycoons for 11 months out of the year. There’s enough hotels, great developments and beautiful buildings perched on cliff sides from San Diego to San Francisco. This is not just the implementation of hotels and housing, it will allow the building of breakwaters, and has the potential to ruin surf breaks along the coast indefinitely.

The official hearing’s this Wednesday, 10th February at 10 am (you can stream the Eddie on your phone if you go) in Morro Bay. Even the location of the hearing is fishy. Morro Bay’s far out of the way for the majority of citizens this issue effects. It’s another ploy to ensure the removal of Dr Lester and appoint a development-minded executive. If you sign up today, ActCoastal is offering 75 dollars in gas money and a limited number of accommodations at Motel 6, or similar lodgings for folks coming from Southern California. If you’re heading down from the Bay Area or North, EAC of West Marin has organised buses and hotel rooms for anyone willing to fight this cause.

To sign the Surfrider petition head here.