California Coastal Commission Considers Firing its Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester
Santa Barbara Development Illustrates Questionable Actions
Gaviota Coast Conservancy Board Member Phil McKenna wrote this Op Ed in today's Santa Barbara Independent: http://www.independent.com/news/2016/feb/02/coastal-commission-goes-rogue/
The California Coastal Commission has stood steadfast against inappropriate coastal development for nearly 44 years, while under near constant pressure from real estate interests. All the while, it has maintained a rock solid stance of support for protecting coastal resources and public access and recreational opportunities.
That could change if the Commission fires its Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester, an action they will consider at their February 10 meeting in Morro Bay. We have found the Coastal Commission staff led by Dr. Lester to be fair and hard working. We have not always agreed with them, but we always felt we got an honest hearing. Losing Lester’s leadership, under ill-defined and suspicious circumstances, would be a blow to the reputation and integrity of the Commission which has been essential in defending our coastline.
A hearing will be held Wednesday, February 10 at 10am in Morro Bay, to take public comments on the proposed firing of Dr. Lester. You can comment in person or via email: Email the Commission at StatusOfExecutiveDirector@coastal.ca.gov
There is a Santa Barbara connection to this issue that illuminates Dr. Lester’s integrity and leadership. Read on... it’s an interesting story.
In April 2014, the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Santa Barbara Surfrider formally requested that the Coastal Commission review the County approval of the Paradiso del Mare project; a two estate development on the bluff east of Naples that would obliterate a prolific white tail kite nesting site, disturb one of only two harbor seal rookeries on the Santa Barbara South Coast, destroy longstanding public access, and directly facilitate a 10 lot subdivision on antiquated Naples lots.
At the Commission hearing, a significant number of the public were denied the right to testify, while the applicant was given the opportunity to change the settlement at the meeting without the benefit of notifying the public or letting the public comment on the changes. It was truly OUTRAGEOUS. We were stunned.
Before the Commissioners voted, Dr. Lester stated that the action the Commission was taking was highly unusual. He recommended that the Commission take jurisdiction over the project and change it to address the myriad project inconsistencies with our County Coastal Plan. We thought this was excellent advice, but the Commission voted 7 to 4 to let the County’s approval stand without review.
During a pause in the voting one of the Commissioners who ultimately voted against reviewing the project, said on an open mic in regards to the impact of the impending Commission action’s on the local environmental community, “Blow their minds; let’s blow their f***ing minds.”
Dr. Lester was the only person on the dais with the integrity and presence of mind to formulate a fair and legal path to the hearing of this issue. His insight and integrity were ignored.
We have sued the Commission for violating the Bagley Keene Open Meeting Law, failing to comply with the California Coastal Act and to provide the public with proper notice of project modifications, and improperly limiting public testimony.
The Commission needs to hear from you about its proposed firing of Dr. Lester.
Email the Commission at StatusOfExecutiveDirector@coastal.ca.gov referencing agenda items 8-10 of the Feb. 10 meeting with your support of Dr. Lester. In his year-end report to the Commission, Dr. Lester enumerated these accomplishments in his five year strategic plan.
- New penalties for those who illegally deny beach access,
- Assistance to communities in planning for sea level rise,
- Updated numerous local community coastal plans,
- Reduced process times for permits and appeals,
- Created a public database on projects under consideration,
- Treated beach access for low-income and minority residents as a civil rights issue.
The California Coastal Commission has championed environmental integrity and the public’s interest across the entire 1,100 miles of our coastline for over 40 years. The effort to fire Dr. Lester is a blatant attempt to move the Commission away from benefiting all Californians toward the interests of a narrow group of developers.
Please voice your concern!
- Email the Commission.
- Attend the hearing: February 10, 2016, 10am, Inn at Morro Bay, 60 State Park Road, Morro Bay. Public testimony will begin shortly after 10am and the Commission will deliberate the issue in closed doors after the close of public testimony, reconvening in public to announce the decision.
- Visit http://www.actcoastal.org/wiki/Main_Page for much more information, media coverage, and an offer to assist paying for transportation costs.
Please make your voice heard. Twenty years ago the Commission tried to fire Peter Douglas, the first and long-tenured Executive Director who preceded Dr. Lester. Three hundred citizens spoke out at that hearing and won the day.
We can do it again!