There may be no better indicator that the executive director of the California Coastal Commission is doing his job than for the governor and his commission appointees to try to sack him. Charles Lester, the powerful agency’s executive director, is now faced with a personnel hearing at the Feb. 10 commission meeting in Morro Bay to discuss his dismissal. He was informed by letter. No reason was given. He requested a public hearing and has made no public comment.
Lester succeeded Peter Douglas as executive director of the C.C.C., when Douglas retired in 2011 after 25 years at the helm. During his tenure, Douglas successfully faced multiple attempts to oust him. Few believed Lester could approach the level of fierce dedication that Douglas brought to the job.
Lester has now proved this wrong. He has demonstrated his ability to lead the agency, particularly with the recent release of the Sea Level Rise Guidance Document, a document two-and-a-half years in the making and a starting point for the state to deal with the immense challenges that sea-level rise will pose to the coast. It was highly praised by commissioners, and is a solid indicator that the man with the difficult job of administering the Coastal Act is doing it well.
The opposition to Lester is said to be led by Governor Brown’s appointee Wendy Mitchell, and his ouster could lead to a political hack replacing him.
The irony is that the Coastal Act of 1976 was signed into law by Governor Brown during his first administration. It would not have passed the Senate without last-minute lobbying by Brown himself. Numerous insiders have told me the governor has little affection for the commission.
The independence of the C.C.C. has grated on more than one governor. Gov. Deukemejian campaigned against it, and drastically cut its funding once elected. Governor Wilson took a shot at ousting Douglas when the Republicans took over the assembly, but that attempt failed in the face of overwhelming public support for Douglas. A similar outpouring is needed now to support Lester.
There’s a reason the California coast does not look like the Jersey shore or Miami Beach. For 44 years, many projects (though not all) that would restrict coastal access, destroy views or negatively affect wetlands and water quality have been denied. Should the public allow that to change, so that the rich and famous, or large corporations, have greater say?
Does the coast belong to the people of California, or to the few who can afford coastal real estate? Shall the future of our coast be determined by commissioners who more devotedly serve major energy and development interests, such as Wendy Mitchell, among whose clients is PG&E, infamous operator of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant whose relicensing will soon be before the commission? As a private citizen, she does not answer to the public.
What can the average beachgoer or surfer do to help prevent the dismissal of Lester? First, call the governor’s office, or visit it online to make a comment.
The following coastal commissioners are elected officials: Martha McClure, Del Norte County Supervisor; Erik Howell, Pismo Beach Councilman; Roberto Uranga, Long Beach City Councilman; Steve Kinsey, Marin County Supervisor; Carole Groom, San Mateo County Supervisor; and Greg Cox, San Diego County
If you can make it to the Morro Bay hearing, please do so.
Other options are writing a letter to the editor or making a donation to one of several nonprofits fighting the ouster. These include Surfrider Foundation and The Sierra Club. You can also share social media posts and tweets from these groups.
Do something! Do it now!
Janet Bridgers is the co-founder and president of Earth Alert. A longtime resident of Southern and Central California, she now lives in New Mexico.