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State lawmakers want disclosure of California Coastal Commission lobbying

Interest groups seeking to influence members of the California Coastal Commission would have to disclose the use and payment of professional lobbyists under legislation introduced at the state Capitol on Tuesday.
“There’s a loophole in current law,” Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) said at a news conference with a group of colleagues.
The legislation would make the 44-year old coastal agency subject to the same reporting requirements as those that already exist for lobbying the Legislature or other government agency. Under current rules, there is only limited disclosure of paid lobbyists who meet with the panel’s appointed commissioners.
“It’s become very, very clear that the influence that certain lobbyists have on the Coastal Commission far outstrips what the general public has,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Monterey Bay), a co-author of the bill.
The legislation comes less than a week after the firing of Charles Lester, the agency’s former executive director. Environmental groups accused commissioners of being overly influenced by lobbyists working on behalf of developers, and suggested those kinds of connections ultimately paved the way for the dismissal of the more environmentally aligned Lester.
Read more at: Lawmakers want disclosure of California Coastal Commission lobbying | The Press Democrat

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Coastal Commission fires executive director over objection of hundreds of supporters

Tony Barboza & Dan Weikel, LOS ANGELES TIMES
The California Coastal Commission fired its executive director Wednesday — a decision made despite an overwhelming show of public support for the land use agency’s top official.
The panel disclosed that it voted 7 to 5 in a private session to dismiss Charles Lester, touching off an emotional scene unique in the agency’s 44-year history.
Many of the more than 100 Lester supporters awaiting the decision broke into tears or reacted angrily. Several commissioners who voted against Lester were escorted out of the meeting by law enforcement without explaining their votes.
Commission chair Steve Kinsey, who voted against the firing, called it a difficult decision that “revolved around leadership and not around an issue of greater flexibility for development” along the coast, which many of the hundreds of supporters of Lester had claimed in seven hours of public testimony earlier in the day.
“The challenge we face now is to rebuild trust and to illustrate through our actions that we will live up to the ideals of the Coastal Act,” Kinsey said.
No other commissioners offered explanations following the vote. After giving Lester a moment to speak, they adjourned.
Commissioners Olga Diaz, Erik Howell, Wendy Mitchell, Effie Turnbull-Sanders, Mark Vargas, Martha McClure and Roberto Uranga voted to fire Lester. Voting no were Carole Groom, Mary Shallenberger, Kinsey, vice chair Dayna Bochco and Mary Luevano.
Read more at: Coastal Commission fires executive director over objection of hundreds of supporters – LA Times

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Battle over Coastal Commission’s Charles Lester closely watched in Sonoma County

When he stands to defend his performance as executive director of the powerful California Coastal Commission on Wednesday, Charles Lester will do so with the support of Sonoma County ocean kayaker and beach steward Ken Sund.
Like scores of North Coast residents headed to the showdown in Morro Bay between Lester and forces on the commission who seek his ouster, Sund views the proposed dismissal as a threat to his cherished coastline itself.
“The Russian River is my home river,” said Sund, 62. “Goat Rock is my home beach. And I see this increasing pressure to keep developing the coast for private interests, so I believe that more needs to be done to strengthen the protection of the California Coast.”
News that the 12-member Coastal Commission —guardian of the 1,100-mile coastline, protector of the right to public access and gatekeeper for development — sought to fire Lester in what many view as a political power grab has inflamed residents up and down the coast. The dispute has resonated especially in Sonoma County, which is defined in large part by wide expanses of rugged, undeveloped coast.
A spokeswoman for the commission said that 26,200 letters and emails had been submitted to the panel as of Monday.
Four supported the removal of Lester, who became commissioner in 2011. The rest expressed support for his continued service, and correspondence was still pouring in, she said.
Legions are expected to attend Wednesday’s 10 a.m. hearing on the Central Coast, prompting staffers to move it to a larger venue.
Read more at: Battle over Coastal Commission’s Charles Lester closely watched | The Press Democrat

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Op-Ed: Our Coast is Under Attack

Norma Jellison, Coastal Advocate, SONOMA COUNTY GAZETTE
Efforts are underway to fire Charles Lester, the Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission.
Why should we in Sonoma County care?
Because the attack on the Executive Director is an attack on the Coastal Act and all it stands for – most importantly access to our coast; our commons.
This coup d’etat is an attempt to undermine the integrity of the Coastal Act and the Local Coastal Plans that allow each and everyone of us to go to the beaches and headlands and breathe in the ocean air, see the vistas spread out in front of us and enjoy the many treasures of the ocean and shore – boating, fishing, whale watching, tide pooling,  birding – or simply sitting on a headland and taking in the beauty of the Pacific Ocean and the Sonoma County coast.
Access to the commons is integral to who we are as Californians. It’s what so many before us fought to preserve – the Bill Kortums of the world and countless citizens who stood up to “Save Our Coast” saying unimpeded access to the coast is the legacy we want for our children and grandchildren. Forever!
And so, in 1976, Proposition 20 was passed to do so. It created the Coastal Commission, the agency, that regulates development, housing and other projects along 1,100 miles of coastline from San Diego to the Oregon border.  What is at stake in the move to fire Executive Director Lester is control over an agency that upholds the California Coastal Act.

Many pro-development critics say the commission has been too strict, capricious and dismissive of property rights. Sound familiar? Hello Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon!

Environmental leaders throughout California say what this is really about is the independence of the Commission and efforts to turn the coast over to energy and development interests. Let’s not lose sight of the ongoing blocking of access to Martin’s Beach in nearby San Mateo County, despite lawsuits requiring access. Do we really want to limit access to the commons to those few who can afford to buy and seal off the coast for their exclusive use and enjoyment?

The executive director  position has long been a target of political operatives trying to exercise more control over the Commission. Similar efforts in 1990 to oust the former executive director, Peter Douglas, failed. As Executive Director, Douglas led  major battles against offshore oil and gas leasing, housing developments and efforts to cut off beach access.

Lets work to ensure the same failure for this coup d’etat against Executive Director Charles Lester.

Send letters against this effort to the editor of local papers and to the Sacramento Bee (the legislators likely read it) and to the Chair of the Coastal Commission, Steve Kinsey who represents Sonoma County on the Commission and is also on the Marin County Board of Supervisors. One wonders what he is thinking being a supposed environmentalist in a very green oriented county.

Most especially, send a letter to the Governor asking him to regain his true commitment to the environment. Ask him to recall his days as a Jesuit seminarian and Jesuit Pope Francis’ recent encyclical aimed at “every person living on this planet” that is about the environment. Ask Governor Brown to take to heart the Pope’s admonition for us to be protectors of one another and the environment.  Finally, ask him to back off on this attack on the environment, our precious California coast, and to not give this commons over to development interests, rather than leaving it intact for future generations to enjoy.

Source: Opinion – Our Coast is Under Attack