The public may never get the whole sordid story on the California Coastal Commission’s firing last week of its executive director, but it’s not too late to insist that the powerful land-use board – and the consultants who make millions lobbying its members – be subjected to future transparency.
The Coastal Commission, which was created shortly before the state’s 1974 Political Reform Act, isn’t explicitly included in state laws covering lobbying disclosures. Why not? That’s another mystery in what seems to be a whole stretch of murky commission waters.
But it’s long past time to close the accountability gap, and to curb the often-flagrant coziness that some consultants have cultivated with members of the commission – a dynamic that has fueled speculation that frustrated developers were behind the demise of the top executive, Charles Lester.
We’re not convinced it was that cut and dried. But Lester’s firing was certainly a ham-handed disaster. And certainly his relationship with his bosses wasn’t helped by the dual roles many of them hold as appointed stewards of the California Coastal Act, on one hand, and as local elected officials or political consultants for coastal landowners.
Given the variety of political hats so many commissioners wear, there are too many creepy opportunities for, say, political contributions to find their way into a commissioner’s campaign war chest, or for a consultant in the audience to do a favor for a consultant on the dais – to perhaps be returned later. And the coastal access at stake is far too precious for the public to just trust them. As it is, critics of Lester’s firing raised questions in public testimony about the influence of commissioner-turned-consultant Susan McCabe.
Good for Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins and Assemblymen Mark Stone and Marc Levine, who proposed legislation on Tuesday to brighten the lights, requiring that people who try to influence the commission register with the state and report their clients, how much they get paid and what issues they’re seeking to influence. Assembly Bill 2002 should help level the playing field in the constant fight to maintain access to the coast.
Lawmakers should pass it. And they should resist the suggestion by Commissioner Wendy Mitchell – who also is a political consultant – that it be tied to a commission website that would let developers and others with pending projects know where their applications are in the process. That commission business should be more public, too, but the disclosure is needed now, for trust reasons.
Speaking of which, Gov. Jerry Brown, who has four appointees, should seek new commissioners. The current group may have had their concerns, but threw the public’s business into turmoil by letting the management of Lester degenerate into a political mugging. Until the governor gets the blood out of the water, public confidence won’t be restored.