Supervisor Sheila Kuehl sent strongly worded letters this week to Governor Jerry Brown, Senate President pro Tem Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Speaker-Elect Anthony Rendon regarding efforts by pro-development Commissioners to oust the current Executive Director, Charles Lester.

Established by voter initiative in 1972 (Proposition 20) and later made permanent by the Legislature through adoption of the California Coastal Act of 1976, the Coastal Commission, in partnership with coastal cities and counties, plans and regulates the use of land and water in the coastal zone.

Development activities, which are broadly defined by the Coastal Act to include (among others) construction of buildings, divisions of land, and activities that change the intensity of use of land or public access to coastal waters, generally require a coastal permit from either the Coastal Commission or the local government.

The letters read, in part, “First of all, it is fairly clear to most who have followed the actions of the Commission recently that the current move to remove Dr. Lester has very little to do with his performance, per se. This is one more decision in what have become steadily increasing attempts to undermine the independence of the Commission and the implementation of the Coastal Act. This comes at a particularly unfortunate time in the history of this fragile coastal area and, if consummated, will throw this State’s Coastal program into further turmoil and undermine coastal protection at a time when there are ever increasing threats to the program and to public access.”

“I strongly believe that removing Dr. Lester at this time is inappropriate and certainly not consistent with some of your public positions relating to the impacts of climate change. Dr. Lester has provided the Commission with strong leadership in this arena and removing him will undermine the stability and functioning of the Commission.”

Although all four letters had the same theme of the importance of upholding the integrity of the commission, Kuehl addressed some of the unimpressive conservation records and actions of current appointees from each branch:

Gov. Brown:
“In the long run, I also most respectfully ask that you consider the policy implications of the fact that your commission appointees have the lowest conservation voting records on the Commission. Three of your appointees have records at 33 and 32 %. The highest sits at only 42%. Please urgently and strongly consider whether the decisions made by your appointees serve the long-term interests of the millions who own and enjoy our coast and whether the health of our coast, itself, is threatened by these decisions. It also (may I say, with all respect) does not reflect well on your office that these same four commissioners are the ones who are leading the effort to off the ED.”

“From the moment Dr. Lester was appointed, your four Commissioners have been blocking his attempts, and that of his staff, to simply do the required work of protecting the Coast. In the fall of 2013, during the preparation of a strategic plan, they attempted to insert “metrics” that would have removed the independence of the staff and allowed the Commissioners to micro-manage the staff. Given that there are three different appointing authorities and twelve different opinions, such a proposal was not workable. Thus, it seems reasonable to conclude that one of the reasons for wanting this was to guarantee that Charles would fail. That effort failed due to a widespread public outcry over the obvious motivation behind it.”

Pro Tem de León:
“Your appointees have been the most supportive, but even they, with a somewhat better conservation-oriented record (58% average) than most, are still far from the solidly pro-conservation votes the Senate has had in the past. As a matter of policy I most respectfully and urgently ask that you give consideration, not just to this immediate issue but also to the long-term protection of the coast. You will have an opportunity to shape the future of our coast for generations to come.”

Speaker Atkins & Speaker-Elect Rendon:
“In the long run, I also most respectfully ask that you communicate to your appointees your strong feeling that Dr. Lester should be retained. And, if I may with all respect, I would also ask you to consider the policy implications of the fact that two of the Assembly’s commission appointees have the lowest conservation voting records of any previous Assembly appointees: 32 % and 39%.”

Supervisor Kuehl closed by asking each to encourage their commissioners to end the attacks on Lester and make future appointments with the true vision of the commission in mind — protecting and enhancing California’s coast and ocean for present and future generations.

“The public, my constituents, are deeply involved in monitoring the Commission and its actions. Consequently, generating public outrage over ham-handed and political actions is not in the best interest of the Commission. Please encourage your Commissioners to make certain the ouster does not come up for a vote.

“Obviously, as the appointing authority, you have full and wide rein over the decisions you make as to who will serve. But, let me ask, with greatest respect, that you assess the performance of each of your appointees and, perhaps consider whether they are serving the goals of the Coastal Act.”