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!
Click here to view the 2015 Winter Gaviota Coast Conservancy Coastline
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!
EMERGENCY OIL TRUCKING PERMIT DENIED!
(Santa Barbara, CA) On Tuesday, June 9, Santa Barbara County Planning and Development Department Assistant Director Dianne Black denied a requested emergency permit to transport crude oil by truck from the Gaviota Coast to Santa Maria. The request was made based on the need to shut in offshore oil platforms due to the closure of the Plains All American Pipeline following the Refugio Oil Spill.
“All oil development carries significant environmental risks, and the Gaviota Coast has seen the consequences of shoddy pipeline transportation practices. After that experience, Exxon’s proposal to transport crude oil from the Gaviota Coast by truck was irresponsible,” stated Gaviota Coast Conservancy’s President, Phil McKenna.
“Exxon failed to make even a credible case that there was an emergency that justified skirting state and local environmental laws,” stated Gaviota Coast Conservancy attorney Marc Chytilo. “Oil development demands the highest levels of environmental scrutiny, not back door emergency exemptions.”
Gaviota Coast Conservancy thanks Assistant Director Black and County staff for their hard work in carefully reviewing this important issue.
Dianne Black will make the decision by Wednesday, as Planning and Development Director Glenn Russell has recused himself due to conflict of interest.
1) Rally: "Not by Pipelines, nor Trains, nor Tanker Trucks! Renewable Energy Now!"
This Monday, June 8 at 12 noon (Bring signs and chants!), in Santa Barbara at the County Courthouse Sunken Gardens, 1100 Anacapa St, and in Santa Maria: at City Hall, 110 East Cook St at Broadway.
2) Attend SB County Board of Supervisors Budget Hearing, on Wednesday, June 10, either 11am or 1pm (RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org for a time update). Ask them to allocate funds to Community Choice Energy! This is our region's best chance to decrease our dependence on dirty fossil fuels locally. Santa Barbara: 105 East Anapamu St. 4th floor. Santa Maria: 511 East Lakeside Pkwy.
GCC and Naples Coalition letter urging denial of emergency trucking application
Director Russell and County Staff:
Please accept this brief communication regarding the proposed Emergency Permit requested by Exxon for trucking of oil from the Las Flores Canyon Facility.
On behalf of the Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Naples Coalition, we oppose this application and ask that you deny it. There are both inadequate justifications, and an incomplete submittal. The California Environmental Quality Act mandates environmental review of the application, and the request does not qualify for CEQA’s emergency exemption, which clearly requires a “clear and imminent danger demanding immediate action to prevent or mitigate loss of . . . essential public services. CEQA Guidelines sec 15359.
The applicant’s contrived justification clearly fails this test. There is no imminent danger – only a future gas shortage, if the application were to be believed. The application states there are at least 30 days before wells must be shut in, allowing time for SoCalGas to address the potential shortfall. Significantly, summer is our low natural gas use period, so demand is reduced. Finally, the County recently approved and SoCalGas has completed a substantial expansion of its reservoir capacity at the La Goleta Plant with one of the justifications being to be able to weather supply interruptions. The applicant’s justification is untenable and fails to qualify as an emergency under CEQA and the coastal zoning ordinance.
Any future natural gas shortfall cannot meet CEQA’s definition of an emergency, and thus no exemption is available and this proposal is subject to complete environmental review. The project entails a number of potentially significant impacts to air quality, public safety, traffic and circulation, ESHA and biological resources, visual resources, recreational resources and is inconsistency with land use policies adopted to protect the environment. Similarly under the County’s zoning ordinances, the situation does not justify the findings of emergency necessary to approve proposed permit.
GCC and the Naples Coalition are deeply concerned with the risks associated with handling of crude oil and natural gas, with toxic air emissions, with the loss of recreational resources from increased traffic, from impacts to the Gaviota Coast’s visual resources from additional industrialization and a constant flow of trucks, risks to terrestrial and marine habitat, impacts to cultural and spiritual resources, and the increased potential for another oil spill from the facility or from the trucks.
We ask that you deny this application.
Please place this office on the mailing list to receive notice of your decision in this matter and any related proceedings.
For Gaviota Coast Conservancy and Naples Coalition
June 1: #RefugioOilSpill @GaviotaCoastC Update
The Santa Barbara Independent, in keeping with its record of extraordinary reporting on this terrible spill, published on Friday an in-depth article on oil transportation safety, pipeline shut-off valves, and the lack of transparency from Plains All American Pipeline, the owner of the ruptured pipe. Noozhawk, another leader in spill coverage, mentioned Phil McKenna's message today. They attended the Unified Command Open House, and left with more questions. Here are their Stand in the Sand images. Here's the Unified Command Report for today. Volunteers (including from GCC, thank you!) have been assisting with endangered Snowy Plover and habitat protection (now seeing oil), and with Unified Command-led cleanup operations.
On Sunday, May 31st, Gaviota Coast Conservancy joined forces with a host of other local and national groups plus over 500 of our fellow concerned citizens for Stand In The Sand, a rally to protest the nearly two-week-old Refugio Oil Spill and to press for greater reliance on renewable forms of energy and greater accountability from the oil industry.
Santa Barbara mayor Helene Schneider addressed the energetic audience, and spoke for many in attendance when she said, “We have seen this before: the 1969 spill in the Santa Barbara Channel, the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, and in 2010, in the Gulf of Mexico. The reality is that under the status quo we will see more spills like these in the future. We are here because we want to see another alternative. We’re here because we want to get ourselves to a better place that is less reliant on oil and more reliant on new clean and renewable technologies.”
In addition, our own Phil McKenna, President of Gaviota Coast Conservancy, delivered a powerful and deeply moving speech to the supportive attendees. Touching on the history, biodiversity, and fragility of the Gaviota Coast, it's well worth reading, and we've reprinted it here in its entirety.
President Phil McKenna's Address at Stand In The Sand, May 31st, 2015
Refugio Beach was built from the mountains of Gaviota, its sand washed from Gaviota’s stone by the storm water from the North. The sand is ancient, born under the sea, lifted to the mountains, transported back to the sea.
The meeting ground of the Pacific Ocean and the North American continent is the incredibly small ribbon of sand that we call the beach. If it is 25 yards wide, it disappears from maps. At high tide it is swamped under the ocean surge.
It is an extraordinary meeting place of water and land, beyond compare on our planet. It is a place that is in constant motion, yet known for tranquility. A place so ephemeral that it changes twice a day. A place so dynamic that it transforms from summer sand to hard cobble in winter.
Refugio translates to "refuge" in English. There is irony here, and truth. Situated in the middle of the Gaviota Coast, it is a refuge from all that Southern California has become. It is a refuge for the 1400 plant and animals species inhabiting this space that are threatened by climate change. It is a refuge and sanctuary unique in the world; summer feeding ground for the Blue Whale, and host to a winter bird count almost unrivaled.
This is why we stand in the sand today. Our refuge was assaulted.
The Gaviota Coast is a unity; its mountains, streams, beach and ocean were all assaulted by our industrial world. The apologists for the oil industry, with their tepid concerns for the pollution, simply sanction the next spill with their acceptance of its inevitability. This is NOT acceptable.
The speakers today outline the technological solutions available to us to temper, reduce, and someday eliminate our reliance on non-renewable energy sources.
But you can move forward immediately, without cost, and with assurance of success. Our personal antidote, expressed in our daily lives, must be to create a respectful attitude toward our earth that is characterized by restraint: take less, give more – we need to be generous with our mother earth.
Thank you for your presence and commitment; stay connected!
As always, we at Gaviota Coast Conservancy are grateful for your support and dedication. We will continue to report on this disaster, and we encourage you to support the environmental organization of your choice with a donation of time or resources. Click here to donate to GCC's ongoing efforts to protect the Gaviota Coast. (Photos courtesy of Isaac Hernandez).
Update, May 29th: Upcoming events: On Saturday, May 30th, the Unified Command will be hosting an open house; this is an excellent opportunity to ask questions of the officials behind the cleanup effort. Marc Chytilo, counsel for The Gaviota Coast Conservancy, remarked, "The Gaviota Coast Conservancy calls on Plains All American Pipeline and the Unified Command to immediately commence cleaning up all beaches with any accumulated oil from Ventura to Hollister Ranch, and to sustain this effort through the summer and until all oil has been removed. The tardy initial response has caused these additional areas to be contaminated unnecessarily, and responders need to broaden the response area accordingly."
Also, we would like to remind an invite you to join us the Stand In The Sand Community rally on Sunday, May 31st. The rally will begin at 1p at De La Guera Plaza.
In other news, we have received an important open letter regarding potential health impacts from working to clean up our beaches in the aftermath of this terrible spill from our friends at the Louisiana Environmental Action Network (LEAN). LEAN was deeply involved in the cleanup of the Gulf Oil Spill, and also in ensuring that the oil industry was held full accountable after that unmitigated disaster: they have experience with spills, and their letter should should be required reading for anyone who is interested in volunteering to clean up the Gaviota Coast. It reads, in part:
"Anyone who tells you that these materials are safe and can be handled with minimal care is misrepresenting the facts. Even brief exposure to crude oil can irritate and damage skin, cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, confusion, difficulty breathing and other problems. Inhaling crude oil mist can cause chemical pneumonitis, a serious lung disease."
Please take a moment to read the entire letter, and please pass this on to anyone who may have been exposed to these chemicals, or who plans to contribute to the clean up effort.
On a related note, well-regarded local filmmaker Mark Manning has produced a very powerful short film which is highly recommended viewing for anyone who is concerned about the health of our beaches and coastline.
The Refugio Incident Unified Command has released a document indicating that if you or someone you know has been impacted by the spill, you may file a claim via telephone.
In a very encouraging development, and in another piece of fine reporting by the SB Independent, US Senators Boxer and Feinstein (both D-CA) and Senator Markey (D-MA) have begun an inquiry as to why the initial response to the spill was so slow.
Finally, the Unified Incident Command has updated their Refugio Oil Spill Map. For the record, and though the Unified map indicates that no oil is present in these areas, this reporter has personally seen unusually high amounts of oil and tar on the beaches to both the north and the south of Gaviota State Beach.
As always, we are truly grateful for your support, and we hope to see you on Sunday at Stand in the Sand!
Update, May 28th: Stand In The Sand, the group formed in the wake of the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill, has organized a community rally for Sunday, May 31st at 1p at De la Guerra Plaza in downtown Santa Barbara to protest the black tide of oil on our beaches. We invite you to join us and other members of our local environmental community as we rally for oil-free beaches and clean energy! Our president, Phil McKenna, is on the rally's speaker lineup. Full details on Stand In The Sand are here.
As cleanup of the Refugio Oil Spill continues and the extent of coast affected by the spill increases as the oil is transported by wind and ocean currents, additional and far-reaching impacts of this ecological disaster are coming to light.
For example, we are now finding some of the threatened Snowy Plovers which nest at Coal Oil Point (Devereux Point) with oil on their wings and feet.
And, while the unified response team has not released an updated map of the spill area since May 26th, first-hand accounts as of May 28th indicate that higher-than-normal levels of oil are being seen on beaches from Hollister Ranch on the north to Carpinteria and beyond on the south.
Jerry Roberts, former editor of the Santa Barbara News-Press (current columnist for SB Independent and editor of CalBuzz.com), focused on the spill in this edition of his program City Desk on SBTV. Roberts also offers a high-level overview of the spill and its coverage by the media in this superb and thought-provoking piece.
Finally, Nick Welsh and the staff at the SB Independent published a piece in today's issue which offers a sobering historical context of the Refugio Oil Spill.
It is increasingly apparent that the effects of this tragic oil spill will be felt for years to come. Once again, we encourage everyone to take a moment to contact their Santa Barbara County Supervisor to let them know that we desire clean, safe, oil-free beaches, and for the oil industry to be held to the highest level of accountability with regards to safety, transparency, maintenance, and clean up.
We appreciate your support, and we hope to see you at Stand In The Sand this Sunday, May 31st, at 1pm!
Update, May 26th: The SB County Board of Supervisors held its first public hearing on the Refugio Oil Spill today in Santa Maria, and the great majority of comments from the public favored greater oversight and regulation of the oil and gas industry in county and more and better legislation in terms of environmental protections.
As one speaker noted, "An ounce of prevention equals a pound of cure." To this point, the Refugio Oil Spill Joint Command released an update today, indicating that some 3,300 cubic yards of oiled material have been removed from the coast. While the spilled oil itself obviously has a negative impact on the environment, it is impossible to remove 3,300 cubic yards of oil-fouled soil, sand, and vegetation without negatively impacting our fragile coastal ecosystem. This is a clear reminder that the effects of the Refugio Oil Spill are wide-ranging, not yet wholly understood, and will be felt for years to come.
On a very positive note, Supervisors Janet Wolf, Doreen Farr, and Salud Carbajal all made clear their understanding that this oil spill constitutes an environmental disaster, and each expressed their intent to hold the oil industry fully accountable. Supervisors Peter Adam and Steve Lavagnino, however, repeatedly attempted to diminish the significance of the spill by comparing it to the oil seepage that occurs naturally. At one point, Lavagnino even stated that, because natural seepage amounts to 4000 gallons each week, "that is one of these spills every week"; given that the Refugio Oil Spill involved at least 21,000 gallons (and more likely 105,00-plus gallons) of oil, this comparison is clearly fallacious.
It is vitally important that we as citizens communicate our positions to our elected officials- this would an excellent time to take a few minutes to call or email your County Supervisor, and to let them know that we want to preserve a clean, oil-free Gaviota Coast, and that we want the oil industry in general- and Plains All American Pipeline, in particular- held fully accountable for this mess. Contact information for each of the SB County Supervisors may be found here.
An interesting development came to light today in a piece published by the SB Independent today: SB County District Attorney Joyce Dudley visited the spill area on Monday, May 25th, and declared it a "potential crime scene". As reported by the Independent, Dudley will be meeting with federal prosecutors this week to discuss the matter further.
As a reminder, private citizen volunteers who wish to help with the cleanup are now being accepted, but must undergo training first. Information and the training sign up sheet may be found here.
Please check back tomorrow for additional updates and information.
The Gaviota Coast Conservancy is a volunteer-based, non-profit organization, and we truly appreciate your support. Please consider making a donation of time or resources to the environmental organization of your choice: our beaches and oceans will thank you!