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Charles Lester, the now-former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, and a part of his beloved coast.

Charles Lester, the now-former Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, and a part of his beloved coast. Photos: R: NY Times L: Andy Bowlin

The Inertia

Forty years ago, Governor Jerry Brown started something called the California Coastal Commission. In short, it makes things hard for anyone who wants to develop California’s coastline–a good thing for everyone except the developers. But the guy who led the charge for the CCC, Charles Lester, was recently giving his walking papers.

Lester, who was hired on back in 2011, was decidedly against growth and for the environment. As the Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, he was a seemingly perfect fit for an entity in charge of keeping the coast clean from the dirty, reaching fingers of development. He, along with Peter Douglas, who left in 2012, stopped innumerable bids from would-be builders along one of the world’s most beautiful coastlines.

According to the LA Times, last month the CCC sent Lester a letter stating that a panel “will consider whether to dismiss you.” Lester was asked to either step down or have his fate voted on. Lester chose the democratic route. But although the hearing on February 10th went his way–everyone who spoke lauded his efforts–the panel voted 7-5 to get rid of him after supporters spent an entire day telling them how great Lester was.

Held in Morro Bay, the hearing had a huge turn out in favor of the work Lester has done. More than a thousand people made it known that the public approved of his policies regarding coastal development.

The reasons for his dismissal seem a bit strange. The New York Times reported that “Mr. Lester had been dismissed because he and his staff had been unresponsive in providing information to commissioners, had nitpicked developers’ legitimate projects and had failed to take steps to ensure that the coastline was accessible to people of all income levels. More important, they said, the commission needed to become more accepting of change and more aggressive in righting shortfalls like an absence of affordable hotels near the coastline.”

Basically, aside from not keeping a few people in the loop, he didn’t let enough developers develop… which is a very short form of his job description. Of course, a lot of people are pissed about the decision.

“Behind closed doors, the Coastal Commission defied the will of the people and acted to weaken the protection of California’s iconic beaches,” said Tom Steyer to the NY Times. Steyer is NextGen environmental group’s president. “This is a wake-up call for all who care about preserving California’s majestic coastline for future generations.”

Toni Atkins, Democratic head of the Assembly, took to social media to air the sheets after the decision. “Let me apologize to the public,” she said on her Twitter account. “I truly thought my appointees would be better stewards of the coast.”

“This is obviously not a Coastal Commission working for the people, nor by the people,” wrote Surfrider Foundation. “We will work to bring this action, the failure in service to the public for whom they should be working – to light.  But more productively, we will work to ensure that the Coastal Commission follows it’s [sic] founding purpose: to permanently protect the California coast, our “distinct and valuable natural resource of vital and enduring interest to all people and exists as a delicately balanced ecosystem.”

There are rumors flying that the vote to fire Lester, who by all accounts was doing a bang-up job of doing… well, his job, was motivated not by Lester’s ability to protect the coastline, but by something a little more sinister.


“Unfortunately, this really validates the concerns that we’ve had since we heard about [the Commission’s plan to fire Lester],” said Jennifer Savage, California Policy Manager for the Surfrider Foundation, to Surfer. “And those are that this action was politically motivated and an example of the Commission not representing the people of California.”


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