Stab Magazine | California Coastal Commission chooses cash and development

California Coastal Commission chooses cash and development

Words by Morgan Williamson After a closed door hearing in December in what the LA Times called “vague performance issues,” the CCC’s Executive Director, Charles 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 […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Words by Morgan Williamson

After a closed door hearing in December in what the LA Times called “vague performance issues,” the CCC’s Executive Director, Charles 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.”

Cardboard signs that read Save our coast and I heart Lester where held in protest. Photo: SLO Tribune

Wednesday morning, an estimated 1000 concerned Californians showed up to protest and over 500 packed the Morro Bay Community centre until it was standing room only in support of Dr Lester. After a nearly 12 hour hearing and six hours of public comment, not one person spoke in favour of removing Lester. The commissioners took to closed doors, the crowd boo’d, outraged by the sudden secrecy and the commissioners voted seven to five, firing the Director. As reported earlier this week: The largest threat to CA’s coast in 40 years has officially commenced their political-no-longer-public agenda. It’s not surprising, money’s powerful and the California coastline’s a cash cow. However, that’s why we had the CCC in the first place…

In 1972 the 12-member California Coastal Commission was set up under Gov Jerry Brown (whose four appointees voted for the removal of Dr Lester) with the sole purpose of protecting the coastline from overdevelopment, environmental harm, and to safeguard it for public access. The CCC is the most powerful land-use agency in the nation and has become an archetype for states striving to sustain their environment.

Peter Douglas, who served in Lester’s position for 25 years, battled hard for the conservation of CA’s coast in the midst of aggressive engagement by some of California’s most wealthy, powerful interests, and did it to much success. Mr Douglas choose Lester as his successor just months before his passing in 2012. Lester was appointed by the commission’s unanimous decision to take over the role of Executive Director in 2011.

So much support with no one to listen. Photo: SLO Tribune

This is not the first time there’s been a coup to remove a director standing in the way of developers and lobbyists. “In 1996, hundreds of environmentalists and activists came to Douglas’ aid after then-Gov Pete Wilson’s appointees and Republicans on commission had moved to oust him,” according to the LA times.

“Environmental groups say the attempt to oust Lester is an outgrowth of a long-brewing shift among commissioners who have grown increasingly bold in asserting their control over agency staff,” states the LA times, “sometimes negotiating with developers during public meetings and going against agency recommendations to make concessions in favour of applicants.”

There’s already much in play, the choice to get rid of Lester has obviously been long decided. The public hearing was a sham, they held it in Morro Bay of all places, and were still over run by protesters in support of Lester. The commission sat and listened to all six hours of public support, support from the people they’re in place to protect and shamelessly voted for his termination. Charles Lester never had a chance.

In December the panel approved a slightly scaled back version of U2’s guitarist David Evans, AKA the Edge, but we’ll call him David’s proposal to build five homes on one of Malibu’s few undeveloped ridges. Which previous Director Douglas called, “one of the three worst projects that I’ve seen in terms of environmental devastation.” It’s a beautiful day…

Mark Massara, Surfing Attorneys Association Founder leads the morning’s rally. Photo: Sustainable Surf

After long years of legal battling with a developer, a 40 acre hotel and condiminium resort on the vulnerable dunes and rapidly eroding shoreline of Monterey Bay was approved by the panel.

The commission in the future is expected to be a part of high-profile projects, such as a proposal to build more than 1,000 new homes at the Newport Banning Ranch; the largest remaining piece of undeveloped land along the coast of Orange County.

“I think this is a potentially dire situation,” said Jennifer Savage, California Policy Manager of the Surfrider Foundation immediately after the vote. “For 40 years, the CCC has been operating in a way that ensures that the Coastal Act is first and foremost being defended. If the Commissioners can remove the person most responsible for the enforcing the Coastal Act, though he’s been doing a good job, what message does that send?”

The message: The commission’s actions are politically motivated and supporting the public’s best interest is no longer the objective. The majority of the commission votes anti-conservation as opposed to pro, and for Californian’s that’s a scary truth.

The seven commissioners who ended Lester’s term as director were: Martha McClure, Mark Vargas, Erik Howell, Roberto Uranga, Effie Turnbull-Sanders, Wendy Mitchell, and Olga Diaz.


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