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
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!
Gaviota Coast Conservancy is proud to announce that the University of California, Santa Barbara Natural Reserve System is turning 50! To celebrate 50 years of research and preservation, the @UCSB Natural Reserve System is hosting 6 events from Oct 1-Nov 7. As proud sponsors, we are happy to support the LARGEST university-administered reserve system in the world. Join us at one (or all!) of the events this celebration has to offer. Head to nrs.ucsb.edu/events to register and RSVP asap, as there's limited space. See you there!