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the inertia
(Saturday) 2.20.16

Firing of California Coastal Commission Executive Director Sparks Massive Public Outrage

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Lester wanted to protect California's coastline. Do the rest of the appointees on the California Coastal Commission feel the same way? Photos, L-R: LA Times/ShutterstockLester wanted to protect California’s coastline. Do the rest of the appointees on the California Coastal Commission feel the same way? Photos, L-R: LA Times/Shutterstock

A few days ago, the California Coastal Commission did something strange. They fired their Executive Director, Charles Lester. It was strange because they fired him even after almost 1000 people took to the stand in his defense at a hearing. It was strange because the panel fired him after a closed-door discussion. It was strange because four of the seven who voted to fire him were Governor Jerry Brown’s appointees, and it was strange because at least one of those appointees is very tightly tied in with both the oil and gas industry and land development.

Lester, of course, was the man who led the charge in keeping California’s coastline free from rampant development, among other things. It’s an important job, and by nearly all accounts, he did it very well. In fact, in a very strange statement, one of the reasons given for his dismal was that “the commission needed to become more accepting of change and more aggressive in righting shortfalls like an absence of affordable hotels near the coastline.”

In short, part of the reason Lester, the man who was appointed to keep things like cheap hotels from the coastline, was fired because he didn’t let enough cheap hotels be built on the coastline. People are very upset. So upset that there is a petition going around to Governor Jerry Brown to fire his appointees at the Coastal Commission.

“Under Political Pressure from Seaworld, oil barons and land developers, The Coastal Commission voted to fire Executive Director Charles Lester from the Coastal Commission staff for doing too good a job protecting our coast,” says the petition. “This unprecedented power grab was supported by all four of your appointees. We, the undersigned demand that you remove them immediately in order to restore the public trust in the integrity of our California Coastal Commission.”

According to the Ocean Outfall Group, the CCC–while under Lester’s direction–stopped a bid from Shell and Exxon to drill in Banning Ranch, a vast open coastal marsh in Southern California. When PG&E, (who, interestingly enough, have recently partnered with Kelly Slater to power his wave pool) wanted to use seismic air cannons to look for fault lines around a nuclear power plant–which, in retrospect of Japan’s earthquake, might be a good idea–they stopped it because of the damage the cannons could do to marine life. Probably their most public ruling was telling SeaWorld that breeding orcas at the San Diego park was no longer an option.

After his firing, Lester told the LA Times that “This commission seems to be more interested in and receptive to the concerns of the development community as a general rule. There is less focus on how we can make decisions to implement the Coastal Act.”

At least one of the Governor’s appointees on the CCC is a very odd choice for something supposed be dedicated to protecting California’s coast. Wendy Mitchell, who was one of the 7 that voted to oust Lester as Executive Director, worked as Vice President External Affairs for Cadiz Inc, a company that “acquires and develops raw land, primarily in desert regions of southern California, identified as having indigenous water supplies.” She was also Vice President of Government and Public Affairs at Woodside Natural Gas, an Australian oil and gas company. She has consulted for Combined Properties, a California real estate firm that “specializes in the acquisition, development, redevelopment, and value enhancement of shopping centers and mixed-use properties.” And last but not least, she has lobbied for PG&E… so she’s not exactly the type of person you’d think would sit on a panel entrusted with keeping developers from developing the coast.

I’m not from California, but I live here. This coast is beautiful. Already there is too much glitter and too many strip malls extending their shining tendrils of filth towards one of the most amazing stretches on earth. It would be nice, I think, to keep it pristine, because much of California’s natural beauty is already covered in the grime of development and greed.

If you want to sign the petition to ask Governor Brown to remove his appointees, you can do it HERE.


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