If you, like us, have been following the adventures of Los Angeles Times reporter Steve Lopez and photographer Allen Schaben as they traverse California's coast, you're sure to have noted two things: California's coast is stunning (you knew that) and the folks currently appointed to protect it aren't doing that swell a job. The majority of the existing California Coastal Commission, in fact, has a tendency to disregard the Coastal Act – see our partner site, ActCoastal, for voting records. In February, the Commission voted to oust Executive Director Dr. Charles Lester despite massive staff and popular support for Lester, and no evidence of misdeeds vocalized by the Commissioners who sought to fire him. As a result, Surfrider initiated the #SaveOurCoast campaign.
The Coastal Act serves as legal protection for California's state waters and beaches, ensuring that public access and environmental protection are prioritized. At least theoretically. Because if Commissioners fail to apply Coastal Act standards when making decisions on applications and appeals, the reality is the loss of public beaches, public access and public trust. Part of the problem stems from something that shouldn't be problematic, but clearly has become so: "ex parte" meetings. These meetings provide an opportunity for those interested in a project to meet with Commissioners and discuss why they support or oppose it. Unfortunately, what might – under more equal conditions – serve to bridge the divide between decisionmakers and the community affected by those decisions hasn't panned out that way. Evidence suggests ex parte meetings actually serve those with the money and time to spend influencing Commissioners to vote in accordance with their wishes.
Enter State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson. She's put forth legislation, SB 1190, to ban ex partes in most situations, which means all discussion on a project would have to take place in the public setting of Coastal Commission hearings.
The Los Angeles Times and the Sacramento Bee both recently ran editorials in favor of the legislation.
From the LA Times: "...most private meetings that have been publicly reported have occurred between those with the meansto travel up and down the state (think wealthy developers and their paid lobbyists) to schmooze with the 12 voting commissioners on a particular project. This arrangement has eroded public trust and cast suspicion on recent decisions made by the Coastal Commission, notably the firing earlier this year of Charles Lester..."
From the SacBee: "While existing law requires commissioners to report private meetings, they sometimes don’t report them at all, or hide what happened in brief notes, written by the lobbyists themselves, in some cases... These private briefings – and tours, and chats, and mixers, and sleepovers at lobbyists’ beach houses – run counter to the role of the commission."
As longtime defenders of California's coast, we agree. It's time for transparency. SB 1190 is expected to go to floor vote this week. Contact your Assemblymember and urge them to #SaveOurCoast!