Responding to the deeply divisive firing of former California Coastal Commission head Charles Lester, legislators announced Tuesday a bill requiring paid consultants who lobby the agency to register with the state and disclose their clients.
“It’s become very, very clear that the influence that certain lobbyists have on the Coastal Commission far outstrips what the general public has,” said Assemblyman Mark Stone, D-Monterey Bay, a former coastal commissioner, “and the general public has no way of knowing who those people are, how much they are making and what their influence is.”
While lobbyists who weigh in on bills or state regulations must register publicly, the same is not true for matters before the Coastal Commission. Legislators said requiring them to do so via Assembly Bill 2002 would temper the influence of interests who deploy lobbyists to gain “an edge with commissioners when they are pushing projects,” said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, who called the Lester vote “murky.”
Environmentalists and other Lester allies argued that he was elbowed out by development interests frustrated with the slow pace of coastal projects. Stone said “it’s developers with the money that tend to buy access to commissioners” and warned about “very, very cozy relationships between certain lobbyists and certain commissioners that are not being disclosed.”
“Developers have looked at the coast as an opportunity to develop these properties for huge financial gain,” said Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, adding that “we do not want our coast to be developed so it looks like Miami Beach.”
When asked, legislators did not name a specific action that they thought developers or lobbyists had influenced.
“It’s hard to really pinpoint if there was anything in particular,” Jackson said, “but I can tell you from my perspective I was somewhat appalled by this process.”
Jennifer Savage, California Policy Manager of the Surfrider Foundation, which condemned the Lester firing and has fought in court to preserve public beach access, said she was pleased to see “some concrete legislation coming out of the disaster” of the Lester hearing.
“If the commissioners had been required to be more transparent and open, I don’t think what happened last week would have happened – and at the very least, we’d know why it happened,” Savage said.
Shortly after the vote to jettison Lester, which followed hours of testimony supporting him, Atkins sent out a tweet apologizing and saying “I truly thought my appointees would be better stewards of the coast.” Atkins, who will be replaced as Assembly leader in March, has pursued Coastal Commission measures with mixed results.
One coastal commissioner, Wendy Mitchell, said the bill should also require that lobbyist registration and payments be on a public website and that information on development proposals be more accessible to the public.
“The public needs to know more about how decisions are made at the commission and who is working to influence those decisions,” Mitchell said.