Tag Archives: California Coastal Commission

Coastal Commission fight highlights need for open, accountable government

Tomorrow, behind closed doors, twelve members of the California Coastal Commission will debate the “Possible Dismisal of the Executive Director.” There’s sure to be a rowdy crowd at Morro Bay for the public portion of the “debate.” But when all’s set and done the future of Dr. Charles Lester, who has served as executive director for the past five years, will be decided in private.

To many it’s been cast as a battle pitting environmentalists and developers. To a few, it’s about whether the Commission has become uneccesarily beureaucratic as it seeks to slow and ultimately halt coastal development.

To me its an attrocious example of democracy in action. Democratic because the executive director serves at the “pleasure of the Commission” and they have every right to dismiss him.  But the worst, because true democracy requires an equal dose of clarity and transparency.

The reality is it’s hard to tell what’s really going on at the heart of the debate, so we all fall back to our predetermined positions. I am guilty of this. Because I have had the good fortune of working with Dr. Lester and his predeccessor the indubitable Peter Douglas, I feel he is doing a “good job” at upholding the charge of the Commission. Therefore, it follows that dismissing him is a deliberate attempt to undermine the work of the Commission and open the coast for development.

But I have also worked with several of the Commissioners who are at the center of the scandal. In Del Norte County, Commissioner and Supervisor Martha MacClure was a champion of our work to protect the redwoods. Commissioner Wendy Mitchel and her husband Richard Katz were strong supporters of protecting Santa Monica Bay and the waters of southern California. These are all good, smart, people. And on some level they are all “environmentalists.” They also serve at the pleasure of the Governor. And no doubt, they each have their own opinion of what “good” looks like for Dr. Lester.

And this is where clarity and transparency comes in. If the Commission could demonstrate to the public that it had agreed with Dr. Lester to a clear set of goals, performance stanadards, and metrics work for his work as executive director over the past 12 months, it would be obvious if he was meeting them.  That’s leadership and management 101.  You may disagree with the goals, but it would be impossible to argue whether the performance matched them or not.

Tomorrow I urge the commission to do just this. Show us what you asked Dr. Lester to do and how he’s done against those goals. If you can do this and show he’s failed to perform, the argument is over. If you can’t or won’t do this, keep him in his post and let the world know what you’ve charged him with delivering. That’s the only way to depolitize this and ensure the coast is protected for future generations.

Enjoying the beaches of Santa Monica Bay



Of desalination and sticks

If approved, the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere would suck 100 MGD
If approved, the largest desalination plant in the western hemisphere would have sucked 100 million gallons of ocean water each day.

Wednesday was a big day for us at Heal the Bay. After years of work, days spent reviewing environmental documents, and five hours at a contentious hearing, the proponents of a massive desalination plant in Huntington Beach withdrew their project. The writing was on the wall — their project, as presented, was not going to be approved.  Of course, the project has not gone away. Not yet anyway.

We’re not opposed to desalination. We believe other, more cost-effective and energy efficient measures, like water reuse and conservation, should be maximized first. The body of research on best practices for desal is still growing, and we recognize that it could be a tool to meet future water needs, when used carefully in the right setting. The Huntington Beach project was simply at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and at a massive scale (the largest proposed plant in the Western Hemisphere). You can read more about the hearing and the issues in a recent blog post by my Heal the Bay colleague Dana Murray.

This week’s desal debate did have me drawing similarities to my work for years in the redwoods. My experience has been that any time you start to focus down on one patch of dirt (or forest, or water), the temperature rapidly rises and agreement can be elusive. If you can step back and look at the issue more holistically and from a broader geographic perspective, you can back into an agreement that works for all.

It reminds me of watching my two older boys play in the woods. While there may be sticks all around, when it comes down to it, they both want the same one. It’s tough to share one stick. But step back and look at the forest and there’s a way.

To take a broader example: an aggressive timber harvest plan adjacent to a beloved park is always going to be contentious. Especially when it involves ancient redwoods. But pull back a bit and look at how and where to meet our need for timber and park protection, and you may have the basis for an agreement. Similarly, a  massive desalination plant near ecologically important places, like marine protected areas and wetlands, is always going to be given a tough look (we and are colleagues will make sure of that).

It’s time to step back and look more holistically and regionally at our water needs.  Desalination — as part of a portfolio of local water supply, smart conservation, and re-use — may well be appropriate if smart technologies are employed and siting doesn’t significantly degrade marine life or habitat. But to my knowledge, the question of places to best site such desal plants has never been asked (let alone answered).

Meanwhile, we are left fighting over particular projects. I for one feel our time would be better spent figuring out a long-term solution that protects our bay and coastal waters, while providing reliable water at reasonable cost.

– See more at: http://www.healthebay.org/blogs-news/lets-take-holistic-view-desal-proposals#sthash.sHkV6YiL.dpuf