An attempt to rewrite state law to allow the newly elected Long Beach mayor to hold a seat on the California Coastal Commission has emerged in the final days of the legislative session.
Robert Garcia, who has served on the Long Beach City Council, was elected mayor earlier this year. But as mayor, under Long Beach’s charter form of government, he no longer is a member of the City Council, according to the attorney general’s office. The change is important as it relates to the Coastal Commission, because his local government seat on the commission is supposed to be filled by a member of a city council or board of supervisors.
The seat becomes vacant on Sept. 15, and the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has the authority to appoint a person to fill the vacancy.
The state attorney general’s office notified Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester that the “plain language of the Coastal Act and of the Long Beach City Charter” made it clear that if Garcia became mayor he could not serve on the commission.
“The Long Beach charter draws a distinction between the position of mayor and that of a member of the city council and does not make the mayor a member of the city council,” Senior Assistant Attorney General John A. Saurenman wrote Lester on May 14. “Therefore, if Mr. Garcia is elected mayor, once installed in that office he will no longer be eligible to serve on the Commission as a member of a city council.”
The seat becomes vacant on Sept. 15, and the Senate Rules Committee, chaired by Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, has the authority to appoint a person to fill the vacancy. Lester notified Steinberg of the looming vacancy in late May. The Rules Committee had appointed Garcia to the commission in 2013, representing the South Coast District.
Allies in the Legislature are pushing a hastily amended bill that would enable Garcia to serve both as mayor and commission member simultaneously. His critics note that he has received campaign donations from lobbyists, land-use experts, developers and others.
The bill, AB 1759 which originally dealt with health services, was authored by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. But its contents were gutted two weeks ago, given a new author – Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood — and amended with language allowing the locally elected mayor of a charter city to serve on the commission.
It does not specify Garcia by name and would apply to any elected mayor of a charter city, but several sources familiar with the issue said the measure was aimed at securing Garcia a commission seat and was at least partly in response to the attorney general’s analysis.
On Thursday, the bill was in the Senate Rules Committee awaiting assignment. Rendon is listed as the author, but the driver behind the bill reportedly is Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, whose district includes a piece of Long Beach. Lara was not immediately available for comment.
The legislative session ends midnight Sunday and bills that do not emerge from the Legislature before then are dead.
The California Coastal Commission regulates some 1,100 miles of prized coastline, a high-profile role involving land use and maintaining environmental protections that often pits the commission against affluent landowners and developers. The commission has 12 voting members and three non-voting members.
The commission’s voting members – four each — are appointed by the Senate Rules Committee, the Assembly speaker and the governor. Half the members are public members, the other half are local elected officials representing specific districts. The three non-voting members are the secretaries of the Resources Agency, the Transportation Agency and the chair of the State Lands Commission.
Earlier, Steinberg’s office said the Senate leader had hoped an appointment to the commission could be made by Aug. 25.
To take effect immediately, the bill would require two-thirds votes in both houses, plus the signature of the governor. If the bill is approved by simple majority votes, it would take effect Jan. 1. Brown has not taken a position on the Rendon bill.
If Steinberg does not make an appointment, the seat would remain vacant until his successor, Sen. Kevin De Leon, D-Los Angeles, takes over, which could leave the seat open for several months.