Frustration over the controversial firing last month of veteran California Coastal Commission head Charles Lester continues to simmer.
On Tuesday, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, announced legislation to prohibit any private, off-the-record conversations between a commissioner and someone with business before the board. Current law allows such “ex parte” communications, as long they are disclosed through a form or, if they occurred less than 7 days before a meeting, verbally at that hearing.
“In the wake of the firing of Dr. Lester, it is important that we do all we can to restore the public’s trust in the Coastal Commission,” Jackson said in a statement. “This bill will level the playing field between big-moneyed interests and those without such financial resources, remove the possibility of backroom decision-making or the perception that this is occurring, and help ensure that decisions are made more openly and transparently.”
Environmentalists, commission staff and dozens of former commissioners were furious over Lester’s treatment earlier this year, which devolved in an ugly public battle amid charges that he was being pushed out by pro-development forces. The commission, created in 1974 to protect California’s coastline, said it was an issue of poor leadership at the agency and decried how the dispute was being represented.
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The Legislature, whose leaders appoint two-thirds of the 12-member commission, took a keen interest in the fight. Sixteen lawmakers sent a letter to Gov. Jerry Brown in the week before Lester’s ouster urging him to intervene, though he declined to do so. Jackson’s bill follows another that would require paid consultants who lobby the agency to register with the state and disclose their clients.