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

Mary Callahan,THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

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.

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