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Coastal Commission Firing of Boss Spawns More Legislation

Coastal Commission Firing of Lester, Photo by James Tensuan

THE CALIFORNIA COASTAL COMMISSION’S decision to fire its executive director triggered new pushback from a state lawmaker yesterday.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D) said she would amend her bill, S.B. 1190, to prohibit commissioners from having conversations about any issue before the agency if done outside a public meeting. Those are known as ex parte communications.

It comes in reaction to the panel voting 7-5 last month to remove then-boss Charles Lester. Jackson said there are too many questions about who is trying to persuade the commission, which oversees land use in 15 counties along 1,100 miles of coast.

“It is important that we do all we can to restore the public’s trust in the Coastal Commission,” Jackson said in a statement. “This bill will level the playing field between big-moneyed interests and those without such financial resources, remove the possibility of backroom decision-making or the perception that this is occurring, and help ensure that decisions are made more openly and transparently.”

Some lawmakers and activists have questioned whether Lester was removed from his job to allow for more land development. The action came not long after commission staff recommended against approving a large project pitched for Banning Ranch, a 410-acre lot in Orange County. It’s the last large open lot in Southern California, and there’s a heated fight over whether to allow hundreds of new houses, along with some preserved open space at the site (Greenwire, March 21).

Commissioners who voted to remove Lester said the action stemmed solely from unhappiness with his management style.

S.B. 1190 also will seek to prohibit commissioners from attempting to influence reports or recommendations from staff prior to those being introduced, Jackson’s office said.

It’s the latest legislation stemming from Lester’s ousting. Jackson is lead Senate co-author of A.B. 2002, from Assembly members Toni Atkins, Mark Stone and Marc Levine, all Democrats. It would require anyone who’s hired to influence commissioners to register with the state as a lobbyist. Current law does not mandate that, giving an exception to the agency. Individuals lobbying on bills pending before the Legislature do have to register. They also must file reports disclosing their clients, amounts paid and bills they sought to shape.

“Today, our oceans face the very significant threats of climate change, pollution, unchecked development and oil spills,” Jackson said. “It’s more important than ever that we seek to preserve an independent, functioning Commission and staff.”

This report was published by Anne C. Mulkern, E&E reporter, on Wednesday, March 23, 2016

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