It’s done. The California Coastal Commission voted 7-5 to fire their Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester.
Dr. Lester’s response to being fired is noteworthy for his statesmanship and his commitment to the Coast: “It’s been a privilege to serve the Commission as the Executive Director for the last four years… I want to thank the public for your participation and engagement and as I said at the beginning of the day… it’s a real testament and it’s a celebration of the vitality of the California Coastal program to all Californians. So if there is any silver lining, I am so energized by all the people who came together for this…. This was a spontaneous expression of commitment to the coast of California and we should all be proud of that.”
Perhaps there has never been a time in the last 40 years when coastal California appears to be subject to greater risk of inappropriate development. Regardless of who takes over the Executive Director role, it appears that the Commission is moving in the direction of quicker development approvals and fewer opportunities for coastal advocates to intervene and offer changes that would enhance protection of the coast.
This is a particularly challenging time for the Gaviota Coast. To date, my colleagues at the Gaviota Coast Conservancy along with concerned citizens and partner environmental organizations have been remarkably successful in holding the line in the face of multiple development initiatives on the eastern portion of the Gaviota Coast. Our past successes were due not only to the hard work of many committed individuals, but also the strong stand that the Coastal Commission typically took on allowable development in the coastal zone.
But our recent experience with the Commission suggests that change is already occurring and the Commission is moving to speed up processing through restricting public participation in hearings and negotiating substantive changes in projects without opportunities for public input. That Dr. Lester publicly advocated for a more robust public process in a recent Gaviota Coast case may have been a contributing factor in his dismissal and the Commission may be looking for a new Executive Director who will share their view of the need to expedite the approval process and limit public participation.
Those who care about the future of the Gaviota Coast and all of coastal California need to make their voices heard. Please tell your elected representatives how you feel about the Commission’s action:
Whoever replaces Dr. Lester, we will continue our work and, as always, we value your ongoing support in our efforts to protect the Gaviota Coast.
In respect for the earth,
Michael S. Brown, President