News

Coastal Commission executive director under fire

The California coast along Redwood National Park, north Humboldt County, (Photo: Don Forthuber, redwoods.info)

A move to oust the executive director of the California Coastal Commission is under way, an effort that marks the most significant attempt against the commission’s ranking administrator in two decades.

Commission Chair Steve Kinsey wrote a letter to Executive Director Charles Lester, saying the 12-member panel “will consider whether to dismiss you” at the commission’s February meeting.

Kinsey’s Jan. 14 letter, reviewed by Capitol Weekly, emerged Tuesday after days of intense wrangling at the powerful agency.

A statement was posted Tuesday evening on the commission’s web site for the Feb. 10-12 meeting, saying that “two items regarding the executive director have been set for public hearing and/or closed session (and) the employment status of the executive director … and if necessary, consideration of the appointment of an interim executive director … ”

There appeared to be a division between environmentalists and conservationists on one hand, who generally support Lester, and pro-development forces on the other.

Lester invoked his right to a public hearing at the February meeting before the commission goes into an executive session to consider his dismissal, sources said. The commission staff was briefed late Tuesday morning about the pending action.

State law “provides all state employees with the option of a public hearing prior to an agency’s consideration of dismissal,” commission spokesperson Noaki Schwartz wrote in an email. “There will be more information about the public hearing process in the coming weeks. Public remarks by the director may be given at the hearing.”

Several people with knowledge of the commission’s inner workings said the action reflected a long-standing division between environmentalists and conservationists on one hand, who generally support Lester, and pro-development forces on the other.

Support for removing Lester apparently comes from several commissioners, including several appointees of the governor, according to a variety of sources.

The executive staff of the commission and several commissioners were unavailable to comment on the issue.

Environmentalists said the friction between environmental and development forces has been constant.

“We’re up against a lot of developers with deep pockets,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn, a Lester supporter who monitors the Coastal Commission for the Surfrider Foundation.

A source familiar with development issues before the commission said unhappiness with Lester stemmed more from management issues and project delays than ideology.

Lester, a member of the commission’s staff since 1997, became executive director in 2011 to succeed Peter Douglas, who had left because of illness. Douglas, the iconic leader of the commission’s staff for nearly three decades, died in 2012. Lester was a close associate of Douglas.

The Coastal Commission is charged with protecting some 1,100 miles of California’s coast. It frequently is involved in controversial, high-profile issues that pit the commission against wealthy celebrities, major developers and property-rights activists.

Lester generally is viewed as an environmental ally, although he is not seen as aggressive an advocate as Douglas, a former legislative staffer well versed in the Capitol’s political wars.

The gubernatorial appointees on the commission include Wendy Mitchell and Effie Turnbull Sanders of Los Angeles, Erik Howell of Pismo Beach and Martha McClure of Crescent City.

If all 12 of the commission’s voting members attend the February meeting, it would take seven votes to oust Lester. If 11 members are present, his firing would require six votes.

That action, if taken, may occur in public or behind closed doors, but in any event, the commission’s vote would be announced publicly afterward.

The voting commissioners are appointed, four each, by the governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules Committee. The commission also has four nonvoting members. The Coastal Commission’s roster is available here.

Douglas was the target of a failed ouster attempt in the mid-1990s engineered by former Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, then-Speaker Curt Pringle, a Republican, and others. Douglas, who argued that business and developer interests were trying to take over the board’s staff, survived the coup after environmentalists and conservationists aggressively complained.

Eds’ Note: Clarifies that vote on dismissal can also occur in public, as well as in private, 13th graf, and CORRECTS the year of Lester’s appointment as executive director to 2011, not 2012, in 18th graf.

 


  • 4oceans

    Same old same old. Developers likely to immolate themselves and set back their efforts for years with this lame stunt.

  • Captain Nitpick

    The Coastal Commission has been able to engage in regulatory overreach for decades in part because the victims of that overreach are, generally, wealthy developers who don’t evoke any public sympathy. But the CC staff has continued to push the limit and take more absurd positions. Maybe they’ve finally pushed too far. Time for some accountability.

    • JSM

      Exactly, except for the characterization of the victims of this bureaucratic monster. The victims of the overreach are often nameless property owners along California’s Coast. This is always portrayed as “environmentalists” and “conservationists” vs. “deep pocketed developers” or “wealthy celebrities”, i.e. “good guys” vs. “bad guys”. The reality is the the CC permanent staff run the show and actual commissioners rarely do anything but rubber stamp the staff “recommendations” or they are likely to lose their appointment. The CC staff are a bunch of activists themselves with the deepest pockets of them all, i.e. the State. The CC staff has no problem litigating anything because the state AG office underwrites all the legal costs with no accountability. They work hand in glove with organizations such as Surfrider toward their long term goal of expropriating all property along the coast, bays and estuaries into State hands. How would you like it if the State came and told you that you had to let your house slide down a cliff so that surfers could ride some waves that may or may not be affected by a retaining wall? How would you like it if the State ordered you to hand over 10-15 feet of your privately owned-since-Spanish California-property for a public path? How would you like it if the State told you you could not replace a barn on your farm? How would you like it if the State ordered your city to spend millions of dollars planting underwater weeds every time they need to repair even public waterfront facilities? Should that State force Pepperdine University to spend hundreds of thousands on lawyers just to ask to replace some lights on an existing intramural field, lights that would be more efficient and better targeted at the field? Only then to have the staff refuse it due to the breeding habits of rodents and insects? I agree, David Geffen, is a first class jerk, but that is a very small part of what the Coastal Commission staff does. They have gone way, way beyond their mandate from the original Prop 20 to stop the Sea Ranch development. They have gone way, way beyond the 1976 Coastal Act. It is the CC staff that is accountable to no one and is out of control.

      • Robert Schneider

        I would agree that they need to be reigned in. The coastal limits line that runs parallel to the high tide in CA needs to be redrawn and their scope needs to become more quantifiable and their overall discretionary review needs to be curtailed. They are another costly bureaucracy that has grown into a costly monster.

        • JE

          The CCC as defined by the Coastal Act is the will of The People.

      • Mr Nice Guy

        JSM put it perfectly

    • Mr Nice Guy

      I concur completely, many of the remarks above come from those who LOVE to dictate what everyone else should do with their property. Continuously whining about issues from the minuscule of what shrubbery can be planted in one’s own yard to not allowing 80 private homeowners to spend their own money to restore a beach that has eroded over the years so that the very same whiners get to enjoy it. They are never satisfied as they sit in their Ivory tower powered by government subsidized solar power. Many are just jealous or outright hypocrites’.

  • PhoenixLake

    Is this related to the most despicable company in the USA, Sea World Parks and Entertainment recent dispute with CA Coastal Commission decision stopping their abusive and immoral Orca breeding program? #Empty The Tanks #DoNotBuyATicket to Captivity. Watch “Blackfish” and “The Cove” documentaries and help us abolish the Slavery of marine mammals. Thank You CA Coastal Commission leadership for Protecting California from the insatiable greediness of developers such as Sea World Parks and Entertainment. I sincerely hope for a end of captive Orca shows in California.

    https://www.thedodo.com/seaworld-fights-orca-breeding-ban-1531928836.html

    • Peking_Duck_sd

      I’m sure SeaWorld is tied to this somehow, if not outright support for the ouster then most likely funneling money into the hands of his opponents. SeaWorld is a dirty, filthy, immoral corporation. Not only do they abuse animals they are tied to/partnered in fish farms that cause environmental degradation in our coastal waters and have been in the news for producing deformed fish. They are probably afraid their horrific little fish farm enterprise is next on the CC’s list of things to look at.

      • ebolaoutkast

        Keep continuing the moron conspiracy theories, and be a shining example for followers of your seething for SeaWorld.

    • ebolaoutkast

      What a sheep.

  • Jenn

    This is outrageous. The firing of the Executive Director, spurred by pro-development Commissioners, is an attack on coastal protection and public access to the coast in California. The staff of the Commission has been incredibly effective in safeguarding our natural resources in, and enjoyment of, the ocean by maintaining its independence from political motivations of individual Commissioners. Removing Charles Lester is an obvious and offensive power grab and makes me fearful for the future of our shoreline and marine ecosystems. We cannot allow this to happen. If you care about the ocean, if you agree that it is the right of all Californians to access and use the beach, if you believe that wetlands and dunes and kelp forests and tidepools and rocky reefs should be protected for the benefit of current and future generations, then show up to the Commission meeting on February 10th in Morro Bay and let the Commission know the move to fire Dr. Lester is unacceptable. The implications of this decision are too important to ignore.

    • CAdiverd

      I completely agree.

  • http://www.coastalrail.org Barry Scott

    “It was such a good idea to build that development on the coast” said nobody, ever.

    We need to retain commission members who truly serve the mission:
    “…to protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.”

    • JSM

      I’ve said it many times as have countless other people. The coast is not so much more special than other land that it can only be used as a public park. Would you remove SFO and LAX? Should we get rid of the ports of Oakland, Stockton, and LA/Long Beach?

      What you copied and pasted above is a “mission” statement on the Coastal Staff’s website. It has never been voted on by anyone and has no force of law. It was made up by the staff. The word “sustainable” does not appear in the Coastal Act anywhere.

      Here is an actual quote from the Act: In carrying out the requirement of Section 4 of Article X of the California Constitution, maximum access, which shall be conspicuously posted, and recreational opportunities shall be provided for all the people consistent with public safety needs and the need to protect public rights, rights of private property owners, and natural resource areas from overuse.

      Guess which part the Staff regularly ignores?

      • beachmama

        Coastal land IS more valuable than “other land” and that is why citizens have rallied, fought and voted for stronger coastal protection. Most Californians are for less coastal development and the minority that are pro development commonly have something to personally gain by developing the fragile coast.

        • JSM

          Please don’t misquote me. I said “…not so much more valuable that it can only be used as a public park.” Coastal land obviously “more valuable” because people pay more for it. That does not give “the public” the right to take it from private owners, a taking specifically prohibited by law. The whole “development” vs. “protection” is a false choice. The CC staff use the “developer” bogeyman to oppress the rights of private citizens, municipalities, and institutions up and down the coast. If CC only stuck to regulating large developments of undeveloped land, that would be fine.

          You would change you tune if some unknown State employee started telling you want to do in the name of the “public good”. There is a whole lot more going on than the typically reported “Surfrider & Conservationists of all that is Good and Right help the saintly Coastal Commission fight the Evil Development Special Interests trying to to turn California into New Jersey” story line. Its also worth while to note that any reporter covering this beat regularly use Coastal Commission Staff and Surfrider Staff for quotes and background. Reporters are always sympathetic to regular sources. Its the nature of the business and that’s why its always the same story-line.

          • TomHouse

            and you’d change yours if somebody built a private hotel on a stretch of beach that the public had been enjoying for generations

          • beachmama

            No misquote . . . only thing in quotes was “other land”.

            Living on the coast and working to keep the coast free of development, I am keenly aware of the constant threat to our fragile coastline. I know Surfrider folks well and they have a clear and outspoken agenda . . . keep the coast free and clear for all. Not too complicated. Having grown up in Marin and now Sonoma County for 27 years, I will do what I can until my last breath to keep what little is left of our beautiful coast undeveloped.

  • diverd

    As a life-long Californian and avid ocean user, I appreciate the work Dr. Lester has overseen in the Coastal Commission to uphold the CA Coastal Act- especially decisions to ensure our coastal resources are protected and that the public has access to our coasts and ocean. Most Californians cannot afford beach-front property, but many of us live here because we love the ocean! Firing the director of the Commission because he is not development/business friendly enough for big $$ would be a terrible action and not representative of Californians’ interests. Our state agencies should be making informed, sustainable, and science-based decisions that benefit the greater public and our precious natural resources- not decisions that just benefit the 1%.

  • CAdiverd

    As a life-long Californian and avid ocean user, I appreciate the work Dr. Lester has overseen in the Coastal Commission to uphold the CA Coastal Act- especially decisions to ensure our coastal resources are protected and that the public has access to our coasts and ocean. Most Californians cannot afford beach-front property, but many of us live here because we love the ocean! Firing the director of the Commission because he is not development/business friendly enough for big $$ would be a terrible action and not representative of Californians’ interests. Our state agencies and staff should be making informed, sustainable, and science-based decisions that benefit the greater public and our precious natural resources, not penalized for upholding state laws and values.

  • Pingback: Coastal Commission Executive Director Possible Dismissal - California Aquaculture Association

  • Laurence B. Goodhhue

    Alas,given the fact that four CC members are appointed by the Assembly Speaker–
    and his lack integrity exposed by the LA Times earlier this week re the Speaker
    Elect(who gave the middle finger to the Director of the FBI James Comey as well as
    US Attorney General Loretta Lynch-via announcing his support for SHE that the
    US 9th Circuit-all but suggested she resign for the ‘EPIDEMIC OF CORRUPTION ‘
    she–ie Kamala Harris has engendered.

    That REBUKE (chronicled in the LA Times: 1/31/15-2/1/15–was BEFORE–BEFORE
    the Court was aware of:
    l.The Criminal Tryst Harris entered into with THEN Coastal Commissioner
    Robert Garcia (Long Beach Councilman/Vice Mayor/Chair of LB Public
    Safety Commission)–later being sworn in as, sitting Mayor.-by Harris=who
    flew down to Long Beach to swear him in-after which the dubious duo CUT
    MORE THAN A RUG…evidenced by a subsequent QUJID PRO QUO…
    ie for NOT PROSECUTING GARCIA–for a THIRD RATE CRIME INVLOVING
    GIFTING $300,000 of State Tidelands Funds—he would support the
    REBUKED HARRIS’S WET DREAM to become US SENATOR….

    2. Harris had hied,as personal aides–LARRY,CURRLY7 MOE…former Knight’s
    Templar Brigade–two of whom were subsequently arrested for
    impersonating police officers—A F E L O N Y…..

    Though the 9th Circuit was unaware of #1 and # 2–before its well justified
    REBUKE OF HARRIS—–THE SPEAKER ELECT—-who was aware of the
    above…….HAVING ONE—WHO EMBRACES OR ENGENDERS SUCH
    CORRUPTION—as set forth above….being in a position to appoint COASTAL
    COMMISSION MEMBERS…..does not bode well for the Coastal Commission
    or the PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA/

  • SteveShimek

    Dr. Lester has served our coast and the vast majority of Californians for many years now; he is truly a hero of our coast and ocean. Dr. Lester has been doing exactly what his job prescribes:

    …to protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.”

    To “protect, conserve, and restore” is never going to be popular with developers and the monied interests of the State who want to reshape, spoil, and destroy what precious little we have left of a natural coastline.

    It’s sad that our Governor is apparently following the money and ignoring the general public interest.

  • LaureNce B.Goodhue

    There needs to be more than one hearing.indeed on such a seminal
    Issue. Indeed,THE COUNCILof TRENT needs to re conveyed,,allowing
    for Hearing in each of the Coastal Districts

  • Save Malibu Mountains

    Its not just Gov Brown’s appointees, but now there is a
    majority of commissioners who do not uphold the basic principles of coastal law. California Coastal law has protected our coast for decades. I know for a fact
    that Brown does not support protecting our coast because he removed Margot
    Feuer as “too environmental” from the South Coast regional commission back in
    the 1970s. Margot was one of the creators of our national park, the SMMNRA.
    But what a shocker when the Coastal Commission voted in December to
    approve “The Edge’s” development which forever destroys the magnificent unmarred Malibu coastline for the millions of annual coastal and national park
    visitors. This development scheme is not “scaled down” as it consists of 5 mansions all over 10,000 sq. ft, a 2000 ft linear access road, and estates which are not set back from the ridge-line vertically and massive grading and land-form change. (Search on Facebook: Save Open Space Over the Edge) All these are
    violations of California Coastal law.
    Say Goodbye to our beautiful, tourist worthy California coastline and
    hello to the overdeveloped Florida coastline unless there is a purge of all the
    new Coastal Commissioners who are consistently voting to violate California
    Coastal law.

    Mary Wiesbrock

  • katied6

    So pro-developer bullies up to their tricks again. In this era of rising seas and other coastal threats, this is even more objectionable and foolhardy than in the past. I hope reason triumphs and Lester keeps the job.

  • Free Voice

    Kinsey trying to do a little more damage before he leaves the CCC. Nice.

  • rdverb

    Ousting Lester does not change one word of the Coastal Act. It was never intended to grant power to the fringe zealotry of the Commission staff: that only resulted from Douglas’ political muscle. It’s high time for more appropriate leadership in tune with the needs of the whole population, not just the surfers. The pendulum has been hard left for long enough to establish precedents.

  • https://www.facebook.com/Douglas-Deitch-345361508829950/?ref=bookmarks Douglas Deitch

    ——– Forwarded Message ——–

    Subject: Consideration of Dismissal of the Executive Director, Agenda Item W8-10, February 10, 2016 Coastal Commission MeetingDate: Sun, 31 Jan 2016 16:20:22 -0800From: Douglas Deitch To: mluevanocoastal@gmail.com,
    mmcclureccc@co.del-norte.ca.us, cgroom@smcgov.org,
    sarahcoastalcom@yahoo.com, StatusOfExecutiveDirector@coastal.ca.gov,
    Ddeitch

    Subject: Consideration of Dismissal of the Executive Director,
    Agenda Item W8-10, February 10, 2016 Coastal Commission
    Meeting-Comment from Douglas Deitch, Executive Director-Monterey Bay
    Conservancy, Santa Cruz, California … a 501c3 Monterey Bay Water
    Policy Thinktank since 1996

    Date: Sun, 31 Jan 2016 04:18:23 -0800

    From: Douglas Deitch

    To: California Coastal Commission, Governor Brown , Mark
    Cowin/DWR , Natural Resources Secretary John Laird (on linkedin.com:
    https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/california-coastal-commission-should-replace-ed-dr-charles-deitch?trk=prof-post)

    In re: Dr. Charles Lester’s Job performance, results, and retention
    as ED …

    Dear California Coastal Commission et al,

    Query: In the Monterey Bay, is there any coastal resource more
    critical and necessary to every aspect of our lives, survival,
    prosperity, and “sustainability” on the coast than our tragically
    and now permanently salt water intruded and decades long massively
    “Big Ag” defiled and mined out coastal ground water commons?

    It’s a real simple decision, California Coastal Commission …

    “The mission of the Coastal Commission (CCC) is to: Protect,
    conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based
    resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally
    sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations.”

    Instead of this, here’s what Dr. Lester did and told us in 2009 he
    erroneously believes and understands the “mission” and “mandate” of
    the CCC to be …

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRld8TH-KEs

    … in response to my numerous pleas (eg. please see: 2009:
    http://www.begentlewiththeearth.org http://www.ourinconvenienttruth.com ,
    https://www.facebook.com/MontereyBayConservancy/photos/pb.177055962316509.-2207520000.1453917109./882368621785236/?type=3&theater

    , and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AyYd603w-5A ,
    http://www.douglasdeitch.com , http://www.lawandorderliberal.com ,
    http://www.dougdeitch.com ) from 2007 through 2011 to the CCC and Dr.
    Lester, CCC and Coastal Conservancy staff, and supervisor/CCC
    commissar Mark Stone, in particular,

    … to please recognize and enforce our 1987 Gary Patton “Well
    Ordinance and Local Coastal Plan” which, unique in the State of
    California, by law (www.pogonip.org/ord.htm ,
    http://www.pogonip.org/alm.htm), forbade/forbides ANY overdrafting/water
    mining of our Santa Cruz County aquifers.

    The CCC, Dr. Lester, and the late Dr. Douglas refused in 2009 and
    any time thereafter to this moment … and here’s what we here in
    Santa Cruz and the entire Monterey Bay ended up with instead, as I
    testified we would in 2010 …

    … The entire CCC was “complicit in the greatest environmental
    catastrophe (ie the tragic and permanent decimation and waste of our
    local coastal Monterey Bay ground water commons) in the history of
    the Monterey Bay”

    … ( @ 3:35 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NK-UlINUmEE ,

    https://www.facebook.com/dougforassembly/photos/pb.1591961497709889.-2207520000.1450709303./1640504249522280/?type=3&theater
    )

    … ending up this month, officially, Folks, as the most tragically
    overdrafted and mismanaged ground water commons in the once Golden
    State:

    https://www.facebook.com/MontereyBayConservancy/photos/a.215880731767365.54128.177055962316509/983979478290816/?type=3&theater

    Res ipsa loquitur.

    Respectfully and regretfully submitted,

    Douglas Deitch

    Executive Director, Monterey Bay Conservancy

    501 Mission Street, #1

    Santa Cruz, California, 95060

    831.476.7662

    http://www.thebestthatmoneycantbuy.net

    http://www.thinklocalactlocal.com

    ps/btw … I have noticed an op-ed in a number of papers, LA Times,
    etc., by Mr. Steven Blank, former CCC commissioner 2007-2013,
    lauding Dr. Lester’s performance and advocating his retention. Maybe
    if Mr. Blank had been paying a little closer attention and respect
    (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JyZoEfZfuG0), along with
    Commissioner/SC supervisor Mr. Mark Stone, ESQ., in particular)
    during his CCC tenure, he might have a far different view of Dr.
    Lester’s performance AND the Monterey Bay’s ground water commons
    (along with the rest of our invaluable though now critically
    threatened and failing natural coastal resources and systems) and
    Dr. Lester’s and his own tragic failure to protect, steward, and
    sustainably conserve them?

    ps/btw II:

    Gary Patton FB post 3/2015: …
    https://www.facebook.com/MontereyBayConservancy/photos/a.215880731767365.54128.177055962316509/943298669025564/?type=3&theater

    ps/btw III:

    My 2009 Santa Cruz Metro Op-Ed on our undeclared by our Santa Cruz
    Board of Supervisors’ ground water emergency … :
    http://www.metrosantacruz.com/metro-santa-cruz/09.23.09/news4-0938.html

  • ALEXANDRA GROSS

    THE OUSTER OF LESTER IS A TRAGEDY FOR OUR STATE’S COASTLINE. SOMEONE IS IN SOMEONE’S POCKET….I JUST FEAR FOR WHAT IS COMING.
    BEHIND CLOSED DOORS? REALLY? SHAME ON THEM.

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