Editorials

Only a complete coastal reboot will do

Protesters defend the outgoing executive director of the California Coastal Commission, Charles Lester, before his firing on Wednesday at a public hearing in Morro Bay.
Protesters defend the outgoing executive director of the California Coastal Commission, Charles Lester, before his firing on Wednesday at a public hearing in Morro Bay. AP

With the bloodbath that was the firing of Charles Lester completed, the California Coastal Commission will now have to find a new executive director to lead one of the most powerful land-use bodies in the United States.

Here’s hoping that the good Lord himself is on the short list, because the commission will need a miracle to get anything done now. Environmentalists are enraged. Staffers are bereft. The agency is polarized.

And the voters smell a beach rat – and want explanations, of which very few good ones have been forthcoming. Though they had a forum at the seven-hour hearing Lester requested on Wednesday and a go-ahead from their own legal counsel, the commission opted not to go into much detail on its reasons for the 7-5 vote, in closed session, to replace Lester.

The few specifics that surfaced were penny-ante: They felt Lester and his staff didn’t brief them in enough detail on proposed projects. They felt sandbagged on the budget. Hardly firing offenses, and hardly the complaints about the staff’s attitude and the lack of a national search when Lester was hired that several commissioners had shared in private.

In any case, most of California now believes that its Coastal Commission is preparing to pollute its coast with resorts and golf courses. Nothing but a total reboot will do if public confidence is to be restored.

To that end, the commissioners should get cracking on that national search they claim to have wanted before Lester’s hiring. They’re going to need it – several of California’s most experienced coastal protection figures have already rebuffed backchannel overtures, given the now-toxic atmosphere at the commission.

Whomever they bring in had better not have even a whiff of pro-development hackery or undue sympathy for beachfront homeowners. The person also had better know the Coastal Act inside and out, since that law is actually the real bulwark against those who would hog and sully the state’s coastline.

And the commissioners who instigated this uproar must go. Lester may not have been the employee of the month, and his staff may have needed an attitude adjustment. But it’s one thing for an appointee to clash with an agency’s staffers, and something else entirely to mismanage a personnel matter to the point that it disrupts the people’s business.

The Senate and Assembly appointees can’t be replaced until their terms end. But the commission chairman terms out this year and Gov. Jerry Brown’s four appointees serve at the governor’s pleasure. If those who pushed hardest for Lester to go really were doing Brown’s wet work – as was implied by his silence – fine. Their work is done now. If not, even more reason to clean the slate on all sides and move on.

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