News

Deal struck over Coastal Commission vacancy

The coast at La Jolla. Photo: Dancestrokes)

In a rare move, a seat on the state’s powerful Coastal Commission will remain vacant for weeks following an unsuccessful effort in the Capitol to allow the newly elected mayor of Long Beach to serve on the 12-member panel. The position officially became vacant this week.

The position, the South Coast local government seat, requires an elected official selected from the city councils or boards of supervisors in Los Angeles or Orange counties.

“We are stepping into uncharted waters,” said Warner Chabot, who represented a number of groups in the discussions over the vacancy, including the Surfrider Foundation.

A decision on who will fill that seat could be made as early as December, when state lawmakers return to Sacramento for a brief procedural session. That session will be the first at which newly named Senate Leader Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, will preside after he formally takes over on Oct. 15 from Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. As Senate leader, De Leon will chair the five-member Senate Rules Committee, which is responsible for making the appointment.

Under an unusual agreement reached between Senate leaders and a number of environmental groups just before the end of the legislative session, the period of time to consider the submitted list of candidates has been extended indefinitely. Such an extension is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, according to several people familiar with the issue. The list had been scheduled to lapse at the end of August.

“We are stepping into uncharted waters,” said Warner Chabot, who represented a number of groups in the discussions over the vacancy, including the Surfrider Foundation.

Under the agreement reached a day before the session ended, the list of 15 names will remain active and serve as the basis for filling the position.

“We felt that we had a good list of names and candidates,” Chabot said, noting that the Senate leader “had the legitimate argument that he just didn’t have time to interview those candidates. We felt that he should be given the opportunity to interview the candidates and make a decision from that existing list.”

It is a complex, lengthy appointment process and is intended to assure balance and representation on the powerful, voter-approved commission, which has authority over 1,100 miles of coast and frequently goes head to head with developers and property owners in California’s most prized real estate.

Typically, an appointing authority – in this case, the Senate leadership – makes a “call for the list,” an official act that triggers the compilation of a list of candidates for the Coastal Commission is provided by local government officials. Once the list is called, the locals have 45 days to put it together. The governor, the Assembly speaker and the Senate Rules committee each have four appointments to the commission, which has 12 voting members, plus three nonvoting members from within the administration – the secretaries of the Resources Agency, the Transportation Agency and the chair of the State Lands Commission.

Half the appointments of voting members are local elected officials, the other half are members of the public.

The list, once submitted, is valid for 30 days. If no candidate is chosen, the appointing authority can call for a second list, but it must contain different names. On the list to fill the latest vacancy, the names are all of city council members from communities in L.A. And Orange County. The names are not ranked, although they include several who have received strong backing from environmentalists, including Nanette Barragan of the Hermosa Beach City Council, Tony Vasquez of the Santa Monica City Council and L.A. City Councilmember Nury Martinez.

“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 Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester on May 14

It is a complex, lengthy appointment process and is intended to assure balance and representation on the powerful, voter-approved commission, which has authority over 1,100 miles of coast and frequently goes head to head with developers and property owners in California’s most prized real estate.

The new vacancy stems from an 11th-hour political move in the Capitol, in which allies of Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia sought to rewrite state law to allow Garcia to serve on the commission. As an elected member of the Long Beach City Council, he had been a member of the Coastal Commission.

But when he was elected mayor, he was no longer an elected member of the city council under the city’s charter form of government, according to the state attorney general’s office, which said the “plain language” of the rule was clear. Garcia and the Coastal Commission were made aware of the conflict earlier this year, before Garcia was elected mayor.

“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 Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles 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.” Lester informed Steinberg two weeks later, and Garcia was elected mayor in June.

The Senate Rules Committee had appointed Garcia to the commission in 2013 representing the South Coast District.

The bill that failed would have allowed Garcia to serve both as mayor of a charter city and commission member simultaneously – a move that drew fire from some environmentalists, who pointed to campaign donations he had received from lobbyists, land-use experts, developers and others.

The bill, AB 1759, originally dealt with health services. It was authored by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley. But its contents were gutted and given a new author, then amended with language allowing the locally elected mayor of a charter city to serve on the commission. Supporters of the bill, which never made it to a floor vote before the session ended, included Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, whose district includes a piece of Long Beach.

Earlier, Steinberg’s office said the Senate leader had hoped an appointment to the commission could be made by Aug. 25.

Donna Frye, who as a former San Diego City Council member has been involved in the appointment process, thought the decision to extend the time frame for the list made sense.

“This seems like a very unique situation,” she said. “I think the people are trying to work together and draft a solution that everyone can be comfortable with. It’s really kind of common sense.”

 


Support for Capitol Weekly is Provided by: