Local politics from Pismo Beach to Arcata are spilling into the Capitol, as cities and counties ponder who will represent them on the California Coastal Commission. The leadership of the powerful, 12-member panel also may be at stake.
Two prized openings – one in the Central Coast, the other in the North Coast – are being targeted by the departing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has asked local officials in both areas to provide him with recommendations to fill the posts, a procedure known as “calling for the list.”
“Why is he rushing to make these appointments? That’s the question on everyone’s mind,” said Susan Jordan of the Coastal Protection Network. “He called for the list (for the Central Coast) in October, well before there was even an opening.”
The governor’s move has raised eyebrows, in part because he is making the appointments himself rather than allowing his successor to do it and because Schwarzenegger, viewed in the Capitol as seeking to polish his environmental legacy, wants to exert some measure of control over the powerful commission as he departs office.
“It was curious why he would act before the new governor came in. It usually is considered protocol that the new governor make the appointments,” Jordan added.
Gerald Meral, a former ranking state water official and a veteran environmental activist who keeps a close watch on the Coastal Commission, agreed.
“I have to assume that this is not the normal course of events, said Meral, the vice chairman of the Environmental Action Committee of West Marin. “If he (Schwarzenegger) were going to be governor for another year, I could see it. But why call for the list so soon?”
Both positions are so-called “pleasure appointments,” meaning that they serve at the pleasure of the governor and do not carry fixed terms. It also means that Gov.-elect Jerry Brown, who will be sworn in Jan. 3, can immediately rescind Schwarzenegger’s choices and appoint his own people.
In that case, why would Schwarzenegger do it all? A press aide to Schwarzenegger said the governor does not discuss appointments, or their timing, prior to their public disclosure.
“Generally, we are filling appointments on boards and commissions as we always have. There are some posts that need to be filled so that we can make sure they still have quorums,” said Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear. “We are not trying to jam anybody.”
But the reason may be in the Dec. 15 commission meeting in San Francisco, when the panel will select its new chair. If Schwarzenegger appoints two new members, he may be able to influence the outcome of the leadership change. The commission sets up its own committees to recommend a new chair and vice chair, and the two positions are filled by a vote of the full commission.
Two current commission members, Chair Bonnie Neely of the North Coast and Central Coast Commissioner Khatchik Achadjian, said the appointments and selection of the chair did not appear to be linked.
“I think it’s just to make sure they don’t have any vacancies,” Neely said. “And Gov. Brown can also call for the list.”
“We always pretty much have the vice chair move to the chair. Mary Shallenberger has 100 percent attendance and is very capable of becoming the next chairwoman,” he said.
Shallenberger, the commission’s vice chair, is from Clements in San Joaquin County. The chair is only one vote among 12, but the position also carries influence over staffing and the commission agenda and serves as the point person for communications to the public.
On the Central Coast, commission member Achadjian, a Republican and member of the San Luis Obispo County board of supervisors, is leaving to take his seat in the 33rd Assembly District. Schwarzenegger cannot appoint Achadjian’s successor until after the new lawmaker is sworn in on Dec. 6.
On the North Coast, Neely’s term on the commission expires by early March. Neely, like Achadjian, is a local government designee to the commission, but she lost a local reelection bid on Nov. 2 to the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors. Barring a surprise action by either governor, her commission term will end 60 days from the end of the year, or the first week in March.
Local government appointees to the Coastal Commission are selected according to a process that is unique in the state, in which the locals formally offer the governor a list of their recommendations – a list from which the governor must choose. If he chooses nobody, he must submit another request for recommendations, and the process starts again.
The locals have 45 days from receipt of the list call to provide names to the governor. The governor – or whoever is making appointments – then has 10 days to respond.
Schwarzenegger called for the list in the Central Coast seat in October, and three names emerged to replace Achadjian: San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Bruce Gibson, Mary Ann Reiss, the mayor of Pismo Beach, and Carpinteria City Councilman Joe Armendariz.
In the north, by a unanimous vote Tuesday of the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors, the name of Supervisor Mark Lovelace of Arcata was offered to the governor. The governor’s call for the list of recommendations was received on Nov. 9, a week after the election.
The 12-member commission has four appointees each from the governor, the Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly speaker. In each group, two members must be selected from the public, and two from local governments.
In effect, half the members hail from local governments, the other half from the general public.
As for the governor, he’s playing his cards close to his chest.
“I haven’t heard anything myself. I have not heard anything at all,” Reiss said.
Ed’s Note: This version CORRECTS spelling of Shallenberger.