Kinsey given smaller fine for communication violations on CCC

06/21/2018

West Marin’s former supervisor, Steve Kinsey, is facing thousands of dollars in fines for failing to disclose behind-the-scenes communications during his time serving on the board of the California Coastal Commission. Last week, a San Diego Superior Court judge found Mr. Kinsey, who served as a coastal commissioner from 2011 to 2016, and four other past and present commissioners guilty of willful transgressions, though he also slashed the amount they will be fined from the plaintiff’s request. Sparked by reporting from the Los Angeles Times, a small nonprofit established for the sole purpose of pursuing the allegations, called Spotlight on Coastal Corruption, reviewed all reports of ex-parte communications—emails, in-person meetings, phone calls or other written material related to a pending matter—made by the commission’s 12 members between January 2015 and August 2016. The lawsuit, filed in 2016, claimed that five commissioners violated disclosure laws a total of 590 times. Per the final ruling, Mr. Kinsey owes $30,300, which will go into the coastal commission’s violation remediation fund. Among more than 50 instances for which he was ultimately fined, the judge determined that Mr. Kinsey’s “more serious violation” was a failure to report meetings he had with the developers of the Newport Banning Ranch Project, which proposed to redevelop an oil field in Newport Beach. (The commission also ultimately denied approval.) Mr. Kinsey participated in the commission’s decision to waive a reapplication fee for the project, though ultimately recused himself from voting on the development. In court, Mr. Kinsey admitted failing to disclose ex parte communications, but argued that he never intentionally withheld information and pointed to a lack of training from the coastal commission and personal stresses at the time of some of the violations. His total fines were the highest of all the commissioners. Current commissioners Erik Howell and Mark Vargas are facing fines of $3,500 and $13,600 respectively, and past commissioners Wendy Mitchell and Martha McClure were fined $7,100 and $2,600. Spotlight on Coastal Corruption was represented by Cory Briggs, a San Diego attorney known for winning high-profile cases against big corporations over issues of environmental compliance. Initially, Mr. Briggs argued for fines that would have likely bankrupted the commissioners, in the range of $3 to $6 million. But the judge, Timothy Taylor, thought this unreasonable, characterizing the infringements as “infractions against administrative law” perhaps, but not “crimes against democracy,” as the plaintiffs argued. In his final ruling, he wrote, “The challenge for the court is to impose a fine that is appropriate to the dereliction, that serves the legitimate purposes of the legislative authorization, but does not give rise to other unintended consequences.” Reached by phone last week, Mr. Briggs said he was pleased by the outcome of the case, the first to ever prosecute coastal commissioners for lack of compliance with the ex parte rules. Mr. Kinsey, a Forest Knolls resident who now works as a transportation and land use consultant, commented to the Light, “I apologize for my reporting mistakes and accept the court’s judgment as a result. While the plaintiff clearly attempted to characterize all commissioners as corrupt and malicious, no malfeasance was found.” He added, “While the plaintiff’s motivation was to destroy the reputations of individual commissioners, the primary result of this lawsuit is a far more closely managed reporting system, which will benefit commissioners and the public alike.”