SAVE OUR SHORES, the 38 year-old non-profit dedicated to protecting the California central coast has never been an organization to shy away from taking bold stands or speaking out on controversial issues. Our roots are firmly grounded in landmark efforts to stop offshore drilling in the Monterey Bay when in the late 1970’s the Santa Cruz community banded together to fight the placement of proposed oil rigs. Today, we are not going to stay silent while behind the scenes political forces attempt to throw the California Coastal Commission into chaos and undermine one of California’s most important pieces of conservation legislation—The Coastal Act—which treats California’s coastline as the complex interconnected system that it is.
We are standing in alignment with more than 100 other environmental, coastal conservation and social justice organizations across the state to speak out against the attempted firing of Dr. Charles Lester, current Executive Director of the Coastal Commission. We expect our voices and our efforts will, for a second time in the Commission’s history, prevent pro-development forces from undercutting the Commission’s ability to administer and enforce the Coastal Act by removing an environmental Champion form its helm. Some may remember the high-profile efforts engineered by former Republican Governor Pete Wilson to remove Dr. Lester’s predecessor, Peter Douglas in 1996, because he frequently took strong positions against wealthy celebrities, major developers, and property-rights activists. Douglas won that battle and we are fighting for a similar victory for Dr. Lester.
Sadly and rather ironically, the attempted coup to oust Dr. Lester seems to have ties to current Democratic Governor Jerry Brown. We say ironically because it was a young Governor Brown who, in his first term as Governor signed the California Coastal Act into Law in 1976. Now, Brown remains noticeably silent in spite of 16 Democratic Lawmakers urging him to “weigh in with support to maintain the independence of the California Coastal Commission staff and retain Dr. Charles Lester as its respected and trusted leader.” A spokesman for the Governor says the debate over Lester’s status is “a personnel matter – initiated without any involvement from our office – for the Coastal Commission to decide,” even though the Governor appoints four of the twelve Commissioners. Some factions go so far as to suggest the Governor’s appointees are leading the charge to remove Dr. Lester.
No matter what the Governor does or doesn’t say or do on the matter, the fact remains that Dr. Lester has been a fair and solid leader of the Coastal Commission. His track record speaks for itself and his accomplishments include:
- Successful application of the new administrative penalty authority in 2014 to remedy violations of public access.
- Completion of a state-of-the-art guidance document to help local governments better plan for and adapt to sea level rise and the impacts of climate change.
- Updating of Local Coastal Plans for 24 cities/counties across California thanks to new funding from the Legislature.
- Improvements in the Commission’s transparency by creating a modern database that provides the public easier online access to information on projects, improved interagency collaboration, and significantly reduced processing times for permits and appeals.
What has been preserved by the Coastal Act and proper oversight by the Coastal Commission under the leadership of both Douglas and Lester led a World Bank delegation, in 2013, to declare California’s coastline to be the best protected coastline on earth. The people of California are proud of that declaration and are making their voices heard. As of February 2nd, the Commission has received 14,000 comments, 13,998 of which oppose Dr. Lester’s removal. Additionally, 35 former Coastal Commissioners, 100+ organizations, and, as noted above, 16 Legislators oppose Lester’s dismissal. Firing Dr. Lester would begin to reverse more than 4 decades of efforts to stop unwise development along our coastline while also guaranteeing public access to the beach for all Californians.[box type=”info”]This Op-Ed was written by Save Our Shores’ Executive Director, Katherine O’Dea, in response to the California Coastal Commission‘s coup to oust Executive Director Charles Lester for more pro-development leadership. A public hearing about Dr. Lester’s future and the safety of our Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary will be held in Morro Bay on Wednesday (2/10). This Op-Ed may be published from multiple sources.[/box]