Peter Douglas, the iconic protector of the California coast who spent decades as the internationally known executive director of the California Coastal Commission, has died following a years-long battle with lung cancer. He was 69.
The German-born Douglas, who came to California as a youngster in the early 1950s, was fascinated by California’s 1,100-mile coastline, which he said he first glimpsed after a relative picked him up at the airport in Los Angeles and they drove to the ocean. “I couldn’t believe it. The palm trees, the blue sky, the water. It was magical and I never forgot it,” he said last year.
The magic stayed with him his entire life. A graduate of UCLA in 1965 and a 1969 graduate of the university’s law school, Douglas wound up in the state Capitol, where he worked on environmental policy issues. In 1972, he co-authored Proposition 20, which created the Coastal Commission, and four years later he helped write the Coastal Act, which put coastal protections — and the commission — into permanence.
In 1977, he went to the Commision as chief deputy, and in 1985 he became executive director– a position he held until last year, when he stepped aside because of his health reasons.
During his tenure, the Commission evolved into an aggressive environmental steward and Douglas personified the Commission’s commitmemt to coastal safeguards — a posture that frequently brought him into conflict with wealthy property owners, powerful Hollywood luminaries, developers, high-priced land-use lawyers and the like. Villified by some but lionized by others, Douglas appeared unconcerned at the tumult.
“I think the California coast is one of the greatest repository of untold stories. People have to understand, it’s like all relationships. You can’t take our relationship with the coast for granted,
because it took a lot of sweat, blood and tears to preserve it so we have what we have today,” he once wrote. “These things didn’t just happen,” he added.
Douglas, whose family suffered in the Holocaust, died Sunday at his sister’s home in Southern California surrounded by family members and friends.