Tell the California Coastal Commission to hold the line on growth and development

By William Hicks

My first experience with the California Coastal Commission was when it prevented my father from building on land he had purchased in Calabasas because a natural stream flows through it. I can remember my brothers and I capturing salamanders in that same stream when we were kids.

My second experience was when my wife and I learned from Malibu vintners that the commission wouldn’t allow them to produce wine on site.

But I’m not going to take issue with the California Coastal Commission for doing its job: “to protect, conserve, restore and enhance the environment of the California coastline.”

California voters established the commission by initiative (Proposition 20) in 1972, and later the state Legislature made the body permanent when it adopted the California Coastal Act of 1976.

I can’t be happy about our democracy when it serves my interests but unhappy about it when it doesn’t.  Well, I could, but then I would be a hypocrite. And nobody likes a hypocrite.

My third experience with the commission, however, leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

When my wife and I moved to Marina del Rey in 2006 there were a lot more mature trees and environmentally sensitive habitat areas for wildlife. After 2011, however, we began to notice more cranes, chainsaws and automobiles. It seems the California Coastal Commission has relinquished some of its protections of these environmentally sensitive habitat areas.

But my most recent experience with the commission is the clincher. Commissioners apparently now wish to fire Executive Director Charles Lester for “performance issues.”

Performance issues? Lester’s performance record shows that he is a steadfast advocate for environmentalism against the encroachment of coastal development. This reeks!

Like my dad, the majority of people have to follow the rules set forth by our democracy. A select few, however, are apparently exempt. It seems The Golden Rule has been rewritten: He who has the gold makes the rules.

Of all his accomplishments, President Theodore Roosevelt said he was proudest of his success in conserving natural resources and extending federal protections to land and wildlife. Roosevelt, a Republican, established the U.S. Forest Service, created five national parks, 18 national monuments, 51 bird reserves and 150 national forests. All in all, TR put about 230 million acres of land under public protection.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, TR’s cousin but a Democrat, was also an energetic supporter of protecting nature and people’s access to it. In the midst of the Great Depression, FDR’s Civilian Conservation Corps went to work improving national parks.

The tradition of protecting public lands is in the DNA of both major political parties, so what’s changed?

Money. What else?

LA Times columnist Steve Lopez recently wrote that Lester’s role is “one of the most important jobs in the state, at one of the most powerful regulatory agencies in the entire country.”

If that’s true, why does the California Coastal Commission’s budget make up only a microscopic fraction of the state’s total budget (about .005%, according to my rough calculations)?

Imagine spending only .005% of your household budget on gasoline and wondering why your car keeps running out of gas.

Nature is not the only thing that abhors a vacuum. So does money; in this case developer and energy money.

It’s all around us. We have the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter and those militiamen up in Oregon. People are ticked off because justice, domestic tranquility, the general welfare and the blessings of liberty seem to be at risk unless you have a ton of money in a bank somewhere — much of which could very well be taxpayers’ Great Recession bailout money!

So, if you’re not uber-wealthy, prepare to step away from the California coast.

That is unless you would like to put democracy in action and challenge the move to oust Lester.

He’s requested a public hearing about his job performance that is also likely to become a referendum on the integrity of the California Coastal Act. The hearing happens at 10 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 10, at the Inn at Morro Bay, 60 State Park Road, Morro Bay.

If you have the time and money to attend, get up there. If you can’t attend, send your thoughts to the commission ASAP by emailing