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Coastal Commission’s preposterous antics go to court, and taxpayers foot the bill

Steve Lopez, THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

It was almost like old times.

Everywhere I looked Tuesday in a downtown San Diego courthouse, I saw a former California Coastal commissioner whose conduct is under scrutiny.

Former Commissioners Wendy Mitchell, Martha McClure and Steve Kinsey were all there, with current Commissioners Erik Howell and Mark Vargas expected to join the party soon.

The reason for the reunion is that they’re all being sued. A group called Spotlight on Coastal Corruption accuses the five commissioners of hundreds of violations of rules involving private communications with parties engaged in project applications before the commission.

So it felt as if it were 2015 all over again — the year when crowds of protesters turned out to monthly Coastal Commission showdowns that played like a traveling circus.

Read more at http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-lopez-coastal-20180228-story.html

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After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up

Steve Lopez, LOS ANGELES TIMES

Yes it’s true, sharks are everywhere along the California coast this summer. But by all appearances, a far bigger threat to your enjoyment of the state’s fabulous beaches has been contained for now.

It’s a new day at the California Coastal Commission.

You remember the drama last year, right?

I don’t get to take up an entire section of the newspaper, so I can only touch on the many ways in which the coast was imperiled by conflicts of interest, the clout of pro-development forces, the undermining of staff experts and a head-smacking lack of professionalism among certain members of the Coastal Commission.

In February 2016, commissioners — appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders — stunned and angered hundreds of spectators when they summarily dismissed the agency’s respected executive director. Charles Lester had staunchly defended his staff’s independence from outside influence while adhering to the letter of the law on coastal preservation, and he made a dramatic appeal to keep his job, to no avail.

But in an unintended way, the firing was a blessing.

“They got away with getting rid of Charles,” said former Commissioner Sara Wan, “but they didn’t get away with the public response.”

In fact, the fall of Lester has led to the toppling of a hyperactive commission that seemed at times to have forgotten its duty to the Coastal Act, and to the guiding principle that the unsurpassed 1,100-mile coast is not anybody’s — it’s everybody’s.

Read more at: After tons of drama with the California Coastal Commission, things are looking up – LA Times

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Why California’s northern coast doesn’t look like Atlantic City

Steve Lopez, LOS ANGELES TIMES

All week long, the ultimate destination was the Sonoma County coast.That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy knocking around Tolowa Dunes, the Smith River and the Lost Coast last week.

Even though I’m a native Californian, I’d done very little exploring up there where the misty shore is rocky, elk run wild and giant redwoods creep down to the sea.

But I was eager to get to the place where the state’s coastal preservation movement took root four decades ago in a David-and-Goliath battle, and I knew I’d be meeting some of the visionaries to whom all Californians owe a debt of gratitude. Their story and the lessons learned are more important than ever, given project proposals big and small that could forever alter the California coast.

I knew I’d be meeting some of the visionaries to whom all Californians owe a debt of gratitude.Let me set the scene first.In the early 1960s, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. planned and began building a power plant at Bodega Head, one of the most jaw-dropping stretches of coast on the planet.

Meanwhile, developers were mapping plans for a monster residential project just north of Jenner at Sea Ranch, where sheep grazed between coastal bluffs and stunning pebble beaches.Those projects had the support of local officials, who saw new streams of revenue.

But a small group of residents saw something else: the destruction of paradise.

They believed there would be irreparable harm to fisheries and the magnificent coastal habitat. In their minds, there’d be another crime, as well: the privatization of a public treasure.

The late Bill Kortum, a veterinarian from Petaluma, refused to let it happen.

When I got to Bodega Bay, I met with Kortum’s wife, Lucy, and his son, Sam, along with others who had lobbied, biked, hiked, knocked on doors and circulated petitions all  those years ago to save the coast.

Read more at: Why California’s northern coast doesn’t look like Atlantic City – LA Times

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Coastal Commission report urges rejection of proposed State Parks fees on Sonoma Coast 

Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Coastal Commission staff report & agenda material (large file)

Staff members with the California Coastal Commission, in a strongly worded report, have urged the agency’s governing board to deny State Parks’ plans to expand fee collection on the Sonoma Coast, arguing that such fees are unconstitutional and a barrier to beach access, in particular for low-income residents.

The staff report, which sided overwhelmingly with local officials and activists who have opposed the fees, represents the strongest opinion on the matter from within the powerful agency that oversees California’s coast. The agency’s board has a final say on whether the fees can be imposed, though the courts ultimately could be asked to take up the matter.

The recommendation that they be rejected escalates a years-long battle over State Parks’ hotly disputed proposal and sets the stage for what could be a decisive April 13 meeting of the Coastal Commission in Santa Rosa. That meeting was moved recently to the Veteran’s Memorial Building in anticipation of a large crowd.

State Parks is seeking to charge visitors at eight different locations on the Sonoma Coast where currently parking is free. Four of the parking lots are at Goat Rock and two are on Bodega Head. The remaining sites are Shell Beach and Stump Beach.

Read more at: Coastal Commission report urges rejection of proposed State Parks fees on Sonoma Coast | The Press Democrat

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State lawmakers want disclosure of California Coastal Commission lobbying

John Myers, LOS ANGELES TIMES

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

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.

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

Posted on Categories Land Use, Sonoma CoastTags , , ,

Coast at a crossroads

Richard Charter, Letter to the Editor, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

More than 100 local residents packed standing-room-only into the Timber Cove firehouse on Monday for a lively interaction with Sonoma County planning staff now rewriting our Local Coastal Plan. The plan guides new development, as well as future protection, for our treasured coastal lands.

Opening the Sonoma Coast to large event centers and big wine-tasting venues, or to other industrial-scale activities, lies at the heart of the emerging debate over the plan. County planning staff is proposing to inappropriately transfer lax inland rules from the county’s general plan and, for the first time, put them into a revised Local Coastal Plan. If eventually certified by the California Coastal Commission, this proposed weakening of the coastal plan language would undermine longstanding coastal protections.

Irreversibly ripping out coastal forests ignores our chronic shortage of water, while logging and grading impacts are an obvious threat to erosion-prone soils on unstable hillsides and dump silt into our streams. Our Sonoma Coast needs to have its own protections maintained and shouldn’t be lumped together with inland urban areas.

The deadline to comment on the coastal plan is Sept. 30, and you can send your comments to PRMD-LCP-Update@sonoma-county.org.

For more information, visit preserveruralsonomacounty.org.

Source: Thursday’s Letters to the Editor | The Press Democrat

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Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sonoma County environmentalist Bill Kortum

Guy Kovner, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

Bill Kortum, Sonoma County’s premier environmental activist, was remembered Saturday as a family man, home winemaker, veterinarian, croquet enthusiast and a personal inspiration to others who joined him in defending the landscape here and along the entire California coast.

More than 700 people, representing a who’s who of the local environmental community, attended a celebration of Kortum’s life at the Sonoma Mountain Village Event Center in Rohnert Park, 4 miles north of the Kortum family home, known as Ely Hill, on the outskirts of Petaluma.

Kortum, who spent most of his life fighting to rein in urban sprawl and protect public access to the coast, died at home Dec. 20 after a three-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 87.

Read more via Hundreds turn out to pay tribute to Sonoma | The Press Democrat.