The California Coastal Commission selected Bonnie Neely of Eureka as the new chairperson this week, culminating a behind-the-scenes struggle in which rival commissioner William Burke mounted an aggressive campaign for the top job.
Neely, who had served as vice chair, replaces the departing chairman, Patrick Kruer. The action was announced at the commission’s meeting in San Francisco.
Burke, who has tried before and failed to become chairman, has been waging an aggressive campaign for the job. Burke, the former owner of the Los Angeles Marathon, currently is chairman of another major regulatory panel, the Southern California Air Quality Management District.
Burke, the husband of former Los Angeles County supervisor Yvonne Burke, received statewide attention last year after he pushed through a bill with the help of friendly lobbyists and political allies in the Legislature to exempt him from term limits at the air board.
According to board observers, Burke has indicated the governor’s staff supports his chairmanship and that former Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez – who appointed Burke to the commission last year – has telephoned commissioners on Burke’s behalf. Sources say, however, that the governor has not taken a position on Burke and is not advocating on his behalf.
There was no immediate comment from the governor’s office.
None of the commissioners contacted by Capitol Weekly responded to questions about the chairmanship, and one indicated that the matter was an internal issue.
The Coastal Commission’s inner workings rarely receive public attention, although maneuvering among the members for the chairmanship has occurred often in the past. The chair, a member of the commission selected by colleagues, typically serves for two years. The current chair is Patrick Kruer, a veteran government regulator and La Jolla financier who was appointed in 2007 by then-Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez.
The chairmanship is more than ceremonial: The chairman runs the meetings, has influence over the agenda and serves as the commission’s public face. There is no hard and fast policy that the vice chair become the chair of the panel, although that has happened frequently in the past, observers say.
Under the Commission’s rules, the 12-member panel is composed of four members each appointed by the governor, the Senate leader and the Assembly speaker. The newly installed leaders in both houses – Democrat Darrell Steinberg in the Senate and Democrat Karen Bass in the Assembly – have not yet made appointments to the commission.
The commission, formed in 1972, is the state’s most powerful land-use regulator and decides where – and how much – land near the coast can be developed. It also is an independent panel – much to the irritation of a number of governors, including the current one – and it has an aggressive staff. Those two qualities often put them at odds with the powers in Sacramento the people who affected by its decisions first hand.