February 11 2016
Morro Bay, CA, February 10 – Today, more than 1,000 concerned citizens, elected officials, former commissioners, staff members, and environmental and social justice advocates attended the Coastal Commission hearing in Morro Bay. Every single speaker emphasized the importance of the Commission’s independence, and urged the Commission to retain Executive Director Charles Lester, a trusted leader that has championed the public good over special interest. In a show of willful disregard for the will of the people it is meant to serve, the California Coastal Commission voted to fire Dr. Lester.
“The Coastal Commission was created to manage the public trust,” said Marce Gutierrez-Graudins, founder of Azul. “But today, they violated it, blatantly ignoring the will of the people by voting to oust a trusted leader that refused to submit to special interests, instead representing the people of California. The Coastal Program is, at its core, an environmental justice program, meant to provide beach access to everyone, regardless of race, culture or income. But today, there was no justice for Dr. Lester or the communities he served so tirelessly.”
“It’s a sad day when Dr. Lester’s many good deeds are punished,” said former Coastal Commission chair Mel Nutter. “As a former Commission chair, I’m dismayed that the Commission chose to side with invisible lobbyists and billionaires rather than the people of California. There is no excuse for their action.”
“Today’s hearing was not a review of Dr. Lester’s performance. It was a review of the Coastal Commission’s ethics, and the results are deeply troubling,” said Stefanie Sekich-Quinn of Surfrider. “Considering the outpouring of public support, this Commission is tone deaf and out of touch with the will of the people. The public trust has been broken and I believe a fundamental change is needed to restore public confidence in the Coastal Commission. We don’t need new leadership on the staff. We need it on the Commission.”
“The struggle continues,” said Robert Garcia of The City Project. “We are more than environmentalists, we are civil rights, social and environmental justice, health, and education advocates. We look forward to working with our sisters and brothers in the mainstream environmental movement to ensure compliance with civil rights and environmental justice laws by the Commission, and to diversifying the members and staff of the Commission so they better reflect the people of the new California. We propose a community workshop with the Commission at the Los Angeles River Center, in the Central Valley, and in the East Bay within the next six months. Environmental justice and the coast are never saved, they are always being saved. We must work on it together.”
The California Coastal Commission manages the most valuable strip of real estate on the planet. The state’s 1,100-mile coastline is on the front lines of climate change and the fight between private profits and the public trust. In January, it came to light that a group of commissioners were planning to terminate its executive director.
Californians responded with an overwhelming wave of support for Dr. Lester. Citizens submitted more than 24,000 pubic comments. Over 150 Coastal Commission staff signed a letter supporting Dr. Lester. Thirty five former commissioners, 93 nonprofits, 16 California lawmakers and 10 members of the U.S. Congress did the same.
The Coastal Commission declined to provide a reason for terminating Dr. Lester, couching it as a personnel matter, and making the decision behind closed doors. Dr. Lester’s track record certainly does not reveal any performance issues. He has secured new authority for the Commission to remove illegal gates, fences and “no trespassing” signs, and worked with private property owners to restore access at a beloved surf break in Malibu, the Strand beach in Dana Point, and Martins Beach in Half Moon Bay. Under Dr. Lester’s leadership, the Commission received the largest budget increase in its history to help coastal cities and counties plan for the future and prepare for climate change.
For additional information about the Coastal Commission and the elected officials, former commissioners, and editorial boards that weighed in to support Dr. Lester, visit http://www.actcoastal.org.