California Coastal Commission episode reignites fight

February 12, 2016
Steven T. Jones

Steven T. Jones


I was struck by two things this week while witnessing the firing of the director of the California Coastal Commission: Dr. Charles Lester’s ouster should outrage all

Californians who care about protecting our coast, and the fight to protect our beaches and ocean-side cliffs is about to get as heated as it has ever been over the past 40 years.

Thousands of Californians rose up to protect our beloved coastline, reaffirming widespread support for the 40-year-old Coastal Act and the commission it created to ensure public access and guard against over development. The Coastal Commission spent an entire day listening to this unanimous plea from the public – and then it fired Lester anyway.

It was a stunning, disheartening moment for the hundreds of us who traveled to Morro Bay from throughout this 1,000-mile coastline to attend the hearing, and the thousands of other Californians who had written letters of support for Lester and his independence and professionalism. But the broad-based movement triggered by Lester’s ouster remains resolute. In fact, we’re more galvanized than ever against the exploitation of our coastline. This isn’t over.

Like everyone who was still there on Wednesday night, 12 hours after the hearing began, I found it hard to believe the commissioners actually voted 7-5 to fire Lester – after every piece of testimony supported him and every major California newspaper editorialized on his behalf, blasting this disingenuous attack by coastal development interests. We still don’t know exactly why these commissioners did it because they refused to deliberate in open session, something that most public testimony and five of the commissioners demanded.

But when the vote tally was reported, it was clear that this was about development of the world’s most valuable stretch of real estate, California’s coastline.

Commissioner Martha McClure and others with the most pro-development voting records said this was about Lester’s management style, their communications problems with his staff, application processing delays, or diversity, all expressed in vague terms. McClure said she was legally barred by personnel rules from explaining her real reasons – something the commission’s legal counsel then refuted, reminding the commission that Lester had requested this hearing and waived his privacy rights – but that it had nothing to do with development. Nothing.

When the commission emerged from an hour-long closed session to announce that Lester was fired, six of those votes were the most pro-development half of the commission, including all four appointees of Gov. Jerry Brown. And the seventh vote, Robert Uranga, wasn’t much better, with a record evenly split between pro- and anti-conservation votes (according to a conservation voting chart that had been derided by the pro-development commissioners, but which proved a prescient predictor of the final vote).

So where do we go from here? While many shed tears and called this a demoralizing setback for coastal protection, this issue has awakened Californians to the imminent threat of reckless coastal over development and habitat degradation. Suddenly, coastal protection is on the public agenda with broad, passionate support not seen since the 1970s, when audacious development proposals and the walling off of beach access by wealthy property owners triggered passage of the Coastal Act.

There is a vibrant movement now underway to restore the promise of the Coastal Act, and our first demand is that Gov. Brown reaffirm the importance of an independent Coastal Commission and reassess whether his appointees are representing California well.

Firing Lester in the face of unanimous public opposition has damaged their credibility and badly eroded our confidence in their ability to choose a successor that we can trust. Their lack of faith in the commission’s professional staff undermines our faith in their intentions and integrity.

Let’s stay engaged with this struggle and turn this frustrating defeat into a victory for all Californians by ensuring that our coastline remains protected for generations to come.

Steven T. Jones is a media specialist with the Center for Biological Diversity and longtime California journalist.


I can’t help but reflect back on a CCC flap over whether Pismo Beach had to get a permit to install a parking meter kiosk. What an absurd waste of time and money, and this is just the kind of minutiae that makes everyone upset.

Then I read in the T-T that Commissioner Erik Howell was upset because he wanted to use the Coastal Plan to force more affordable housing. WTF??? I thought it was about the COAST!

The whole Commission AND staff need to be sent packing. Lets get back to the original intent.


The hair and shades makes “Steven T. Jones” look foolish in this context.


Hit in head too many times by his surfboard?


The only way these environmental non-profits stay in business and increase their revenues is by trying to scare people. They aren’t operating out of the goodness of their hearts. They are in business to make money and they don’t mind stretching the truth to do it. Follow the money!


That hair, though.


“Off with their heads! Let there be blood in the streets,” the mob roared. They came to shock and awe the commission members into submission but instead got the head of their leader tossed into their laps. Is it no wonder they are mad. But they were the ones screaming for blood.

Should we be surprised by the fervor of the author? When we created the Coastal Act we planted the seeds for new industries to flourish. Groups to protect land owners, groups to steal the land from land owners, groups we never considered would exist.

The Director of the CCC has become the defacto leader of an environmental industry on which many have come to depend. Then there are the NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations) that rake in millions every year off of the mandates of the CCC. Yet while the NGOs scream for transparency they plead ignorance in their complicity in shaking down coastal zone land owners that run afowl of the whims of commission staff. Oh, and lets not forget the environmental establishment that thrives on squeezing the faithful and the unfortunate alike. You say I lie. I say it is a truth we have allowed ourselves to be blinded by because of the good intentions and self righteousness of those delivering the message.

Pick your sides if you will but before your start throwing stones look at yourself in the mirror.




I say build baby build! This commission lost focus from the start. As a native SLO County I remember when this commission was formed and was suppose to protect the coast from development. I remember all the pea fields down along the coast in Pismo Beach area where these are now condos, apts, houses, fire stations, restaurants, stairways to nowhere, motels and hotels, and more huge hotels. That is just in our area. I drive up and down the Coast and see motels and restaurants, tracts of homes, drive to Cambria, Ventura and Santa Barbara, Southern California. Northern California more of the same. Money pays for anything for the powers to be. Most of the Boards and Commissions are paybacks to the political party in charge and the standing governor. It is a scam like every thing else in government, corrupt!


Remember…………we’re the Gov.t we’re here to help.


These small vocal groups have had a dominant influence over the Coastal Commission since it was created. They don’t want any opposition to be allowed to challenge their dominance or to even question the policies and actions of the Commission.


Take Back the Coastal Act by joey racano

In the last few years, the California Coastal Commission has made bold moves to protect the dwindling coast of California and in doing so, made some powerful enemies. For instance, the commission resisted allowing Shell and Exxon from drilling and fracking on Banning Ranch, last large open coastal marsh in Orange County.

They stopped Pacific Gas and Electric from blasting whales with seismic air canons at the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County. And probably the biggest shot heard ’round the world was their ruling to forbid the captive breeding of orcas at Seaworld San Diego as a condition of approval for bigger tanks.

These powerful business interests, who see the coast as a profit center to be plundered, have struck back, forcing the Commission to remove their own Dr. Charles Lester, no longer the Executive Director as of yesterday. Lester, hand-picked by the late great Peter Douglas, was favored 890-2 by speakers at the meeting in Morro Bay this past Wednesday, but the vote still went against him, 7-5.

Now the call is out demanding Governor of California Jerry Brown to remove and replace his Coastal Commission appointees, (Effie Turnbull, Erik Howell, Martha McClure, and *Wendy Mitchell, who is a lobbyist for PG&E), all 4 having voted for Lester’s ouster in spite of enormous public opposition.

With the petition demanding the removal of the Brown appointees only 24 hours old, the balance is the same- so far, 207-1 to have them removed and the commission’s integrity and independence restored.

Here is your chance to weigh in:

Join us on Facebook at: Take Back the Coastal Act

And sign the petition to Gov. Brown at:


Joey Racano, Director,

Ocean Outfall Group


Stick to your music Joey, it’s better than your activism…if that’s even possible.


Thr commission is absurd to deal with and Dr. Lester was the architect.

For local government trying to maintain or enhance existing infrastructure the commission is a nightmare.

Stairwells to the beach that could collapse, but can’t be fixed without the commission’s approval.

Coastal Creeks so backed up with debris, trees, etc that flooding occurs and poses contamination risks.

Pine forests dead and dying that pose a threat to the residrnts of the forest; local and state government must tip toe through a mine field in order to mitigate the danger..

Only a sensible decision by Governor Brown saved local government in the last instance and the firing of Lester can save locsl government from the rest.

The Coastal Commission has an opportunity to really serve the public interest by setting new priorities and goals to meet our collective needs.

They can start by letting San Simeon fix its stairwell to the beach on Pico Avenue..

Are you listening Erik Howell, A.G

High Class of 1985???