On February 10th, the California Coastal Commission for the first time in its 43 year history fired its executive director, Dr. Charles Lester, throwing one of the most powerful governmental agencies in the nation into turmoil by undermining the authority of its independent staff that evaluates coastal development proposals. Dr. Lester had served as a commission staff member for 19 years, and was the executive director for the past five years.
Despite a nearly unanimous outpouring of support for Dr. Lester, which included a packed hearing of over 1,000 citizens (including Turtle Island staff) who traveled from all over the State to the isolated and sleepy beach town of Morro Bay, and over 20,000 letters of support (including letters from former commission members, Commission staff, and lawmakers) Commissioners were unswayed. There drastic action weakened the integrity of the California Coastal Act, one of California’s strongest environmental laws.
Though Dr. Lester requested a public hearing, waiving his rights to privacy, the cowardly Commissioners voted behind closed doors, thumbing their noses at the over 1,000 citizens present, and Dr Lester’s request for transparency.
Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), along with nine other California congressional members, warned in a letter sent to commission Chairman Steve Kinsey and Gov. Jerry Brown that firing Dr. Lester would threaten the nonpartisan nature of the commission’s work and risk its legacy and validity. Also signing the letter were Reps. Julia Brownley (D-Westlake Village), John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek), Sam Farr (D-Carmel), Janice Hahn (D-San Pedro), Mike Honda (D-San Jose), Jared Huffman (D-San Rafael), Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), and Adam Schiff (D-Burbank).
Major newspaper editorial boards were also almost unanimously opposed to the firing. The Los Angeles Times Editorial Board, wrote,
“If pro-development forces orchestrated Lester’s ouster, then Californians have good reason to worry — and to be angry.”
As Commission Chair, this unprecedented event occurred on the watch of Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, the local County Supervisor representing the coast of Marin County. At the same time Marin’s local coastal plan update was rejected by Commission staff for undermining coastal protections, allowing increased development, and loosening restrictions on agriculture, one of Kinsey’s prime constituents.
This heartbreaking turn of events opens a new chapter in the battle to protect our California’s coast. Turtle Island plans to play a vital role now and into the future. We will need your continued help and support.
We will harness the outpouring of support for our beautiful coast, and use the moment to educate, inspire, and motivate new actions to strengthen the California Coastal Act, working alongside hundreds of environmental and social justice activists, and lawmakers to ensure that our coasts remain protected, healthy and accessible to all California residents.
Please stay tuned for actions you can take. Currently, all kinds of initiatives are being considered and developed, including new legislation, public ballot measures, and public demands for the resignations of Commissioners.