By Kathryn Burton
Earlier this year, the California Coastal Commission fired executive director Dr. Charles Lester without a word of explanation. The reason for the dismissal of a well-respected steward of our coast was not disclosed, and probably won't be disclosed willingly, because commissioners met and made the decision to dismiss Lester in private. Regrettably, such back-door deals have become commonplace among the current make-up of the coastal commission.
In fact, the firing of Dr. Lester highlights a painfully apparent truth – many of the agency's current commissioners are unwilling to protect the California coast according to the tenets of the Coastal Act, which was passed by voters in 1972, or by the rules and mission of the California Coastal Commission, which was formally created by the state legislature in 1976.
Perhaps the greatest problem with the commission's actions is the lack of transparency, which is especially true when commissioners meet behind closed doors with developers and their lobbyists. The Coastal Act prohibits such meetings.
Closed-door meetings, or "ex parte" communications, can only take place if properly disclosed – as spelled out in the Coastal Act. Appropriate and proper disclosure would give the public enough time and information to know exactly what transpired, and ideally no more secret deals would be able to be struck. Unfortunately, there are commissioners who fall woefully short in their disclosures – several even appear to do so intentionally.
In an effort to correct the present lack of transparency at the California Coastal Commission, a handful of long-time coastal and good-government advocates have formed a new non-profit organization called Spotlight on Coastal Corruption (SOCC).
Through its attorney, SOCC has filed lawsuits against five commissioners who appear to have violated commission disclosure laws. SOCC's legal counsel has agreed to bring the lawsuits for no fees (on a contingency basis), provided SOCC covers court costs and other out-of-pocket expenses, which are estimated to run about $50,000.
SOCC also has a benefactor that will match the first $10,000 in donations, which are tax-deductible. We hope you can help by donating to this effort. Every dollar helps, and we're already halfway towards our goal. Your contribution will make a significant difference and go a long way toward restoring an open and honest coastal commission – one that continues to protect California's 1,100 miles of precious coastal resources.
Please donate whatever you can. Your funds will help end the lack of transparency at the commission and restore due process. To contribute, visit the Spotlight on Coastal Corruption website and click on "DONATE" to donate via PayPal. You can also send a personal check to SOCC, at P.O. Box 7952, San Diego, CA 91267.
Club member Kathryn Burton is the president of Spotlight on Coastal Corruption and chair of the Torrey Hills Community Planning Group, and was a co-founder of the Torrey Hills Community Coalition. An avid organic gardener, Kathryn previously worked in the San Diego City Attorney's office.
Photo by Tommy Hough.
The blog component of San Diego County Democrats for Environmental Action is edited by club president Tommy Hough, and welcomes content from SDCDEA members, guests and leadership.