Steve Blank, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who was viewed as a strong environmental voice on the California Coastal Commission, has resigned his position, saying that the commission’s role was weakened by the death of long-time executive director Peter Douglas, and other factors.
Blank, who was appointed in 2007 by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and later reappointed by Gov. Brown, said the commission has been successful in protecting the coast because “it took unpopular positions upsetting developers who have fought with the agency.” The key to the effectiveness of the commission and staff was their being “unreasonable” — uncompromising — in their desire to protect the coast, he said.
“For the last three decades, the Coastal Commission has protected the coast while miraculously managing to avoid regulatory capture,” he added in his June 27 resignation letter to Gov. Brown.
“Unfortunately, Peter Douglas is gone. Current commissioners, including your appointees want the commission to be reasonable. In fact, they want a new reasonable director,” he wrote.
In a separate interview, Blank said environmentalists were not following the commission as closely as in years past, there has been a series of pro-development commissioners and those who appoint commissioners have not selected aggressive coastal protectionists.
“It was really a perfect storm,” Blank said. “Never have all three of these things come together at once…It’s not just the commission, it’s the appointing authorities (who) screw it up for short-term gain. We’ve got something here that is easily destroyable and we’re on the path to doing that.”
Douglas, who had worked for the commission since it was formed 40 years ago, died last year at the age of 69.
Other changes also loom at the commission, an internationally known regulatory panel that protects some 1,000 miles of California coastline.
The appointment of Mary Shallenberger of Clements in the Central Valley expired on May 20. Under commission rules, she can serve for an additional 60 days while her successor is found. Shallenberger was appointed by the Senate Rules Committee.
The appointment of Esther Sanchez of Oceanside also expired May 20. Sanchez, an Oceanside City Council member, was appointed by Assembly Speaker John Pérez to fill a position requiring a public official.
Pérez has “called for the list” – officially requested names from local officials in San Diego County as a possible replacement for Sanchez – but did not select a candidate for appointment. Pérez then called for a second list of names — he is allowed two — and he currently is studying the names but has not yet announced a choice. He cannot call for more than two lists, according to state rules.
“Over the last few years I learned that unless there is a vigilant and engaged public, lobbyists and developers will take over the commission using “reasonableness” and “fair compromise” as their watch words. It is up to individuals and our environmental organizations to become more active on coastal issues,” Blank said in remarks last week to the California League of Conservation Voters.
Blank said he admired the “unreasonable” quality of Douglas and coastal protectionists. He said he used the term “unreasonable” after reading an editorial in Union-Tribune in San Diego that said the state needed a “reasonable commissioner” to succeed Sanchez.
“‘Reasonable’ is a code word for ‘Give us someobody for developers,'” Blank said. “This was a blatant call to bend over.”