After turmoil, Coastal Commission looks to be more transparent

This month, the Coastal Commission voted to replace its executive director. We made this difficult decision after more than 25 hours of confidential performance reviews that took place over a four-year period; I did not take this decision lightly, and I stand by my vote.

The public battle that played out over the last month was a tragedy. The media coverage and the narrative didn’t match the real issues we faced as commissioners, but it does make clear that we must do more to bring openness and transparency to the commission process.

As we move forward, all of us hope for a more open and civil dialogue. We should focus on working collaboratively to protect our coast.

The fact is: There were numerous management and administrative issues that commissioners deemed significant obstacles to their ability to successfully and objectively implement the Coastal Act.

We want more transparency, more access, better information, better communication. We want our staff to reflect the people of our state, and we want everyone to know how decisions are made. This increased clarity in our process will help everyone do a better job of protecting our coast for the decades to come. I understand there will be increased scrutiny on the commission – as there should be.

To accomplish this, the commission needs news rules, for commissioners, staff and advocates alike. The bill introduced by Democratic lawmakers is a good first step, but it doesn’t go far enough. The commission does not have to wait for legislative action to bring more sunlight into the commission’s process.

▪ Everyone who lobbies the commission and staff should be required to register with the secretary of state, and their client list and payments should be available on a public website.

▪ More documents should be made readily available to the public and commissioners, including budget information, permit applications, local coastal plans and appeals immediately posed on our website, similar to other permitting agencies in California.

▪ The commission should adopt a 24-hours-in-print rule to ensure adequate public notice and opportunity to review proposals before they are voted on by the commission.

▪ All communications between advocates and commissioners or staff must be disclosed and easily accessible to the public.

▪ Statements of Economic Interest (Form 700) for commissioners and reportable staff should be posted on the existing commission website.

▪ We should have more accessible and affordable meeting locations (i.e. state office buildings) closer to airports and public transit. This allows policymakers and members of the public to participate in commission proceedings and save taxpayer money.

Our duty to protect the coast goes beyond any one individual, and coastal protection does not rely on any one executive director. As we begin the search for a new executive director, we should cast a wide net to find someone with strong leadership and management skills and a proven record of environmental stewardship to match.

California is blessed with many strong leaders that make tough policy decisions and do so transparently with leadership and grace. The Coastal Commission needs the same.

Our coast is facing challenges on multiple fronts. We must work to preserve coastal resources in the face of climate change and sea-level rise, improve public access and awareness about our beaches and ensure the coast is open to all.

This work requires strong environmental leadership, and that is what I will look for in a new executive director. I hope my fellow commissioners and the public will be looking for the same. California deserves no less.

Wendy Mitchell has served on the California Coastal Commission since 2011. She is the principal of WM Consulting Inc. and also serves on the board of the California League of Conservation Voters.