Tag Archives: Politics

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.

RKHfamilyBeach
Enjoying the beaches of Santa Monica Bay

 

 

Is it time to make the initiative process more transparent?

I was just reading an article about the Plastic Bag initiative that recently qualified for the 2016 election. My interest is more than passing, as securing a state-wide ban was a major success while I was at Heal the Bay. It had taken years of work, resulting in a political compromise that was signed into law by Governor Brown last year.

Now it’s on hold after the plastic bag manufacturers put up $3 million – 98% from out-of-state money – to collect the signatures to put it to a vote of the electorate.  The crazy part is that by simply qualifying the initiative the ban is now on hold. By some estimate, every additional year they can sell single-use plastic bags in California generates another $15 million in profit to the manufactures. In other words, for a payment of $3 million they will earn a five-fold return each year. I wish I could get that type of return on my savings account! In fact, the industry will have won handsomely even if they lose in 2016.

I’m not going to rehash the merits of banning plastic bags — that story has been told. And in fact, about half of all Californians live in municipalities that have already banned bags.  But it does again raise the whole question of the initiative process. To me what is most egregious is the misleading way that signatures were gathered. I know because I was asked for mine outside a local Trader Joe. Inside the store the vast majority of people were bringing their re-usable bags, while outside they were being asked whether they could “spare a minute to save jobs.”  I bet most people didn’t know what they were signing or that the person collecting signatures was likely being paid a dollar or more per signature gathered. Or that the jobs issue had been dealt with in the bill that was signed in to law and that it would create new green jobs in California.

There’s a lot of debate at the moment about money in politics as almost limitless amounts slosh around. Much as there’s a desperate need for transparency at the top, I feel it’s past time for transparency in the initiative process. By all means go and collect your signatures. Just make it clear at the point of signing who is behind the initiative and how much the signature gatherer is being paid for you to sign.

A more radical idea is to accept the concept that you can put almost anything on the ballot if you have enough money to spend (or invest as this case shows). As an alternative to the signature gathering process, let’s just have a limited number of slots on each ballot and sell them to the highest bidder. The funds collected could then go to fund voter education programs. Perhaps over time an educated electorate who turned out to vote would slow this craziness.

With Senator de Leon, Senator Padilla, and Sarah Sikitch
With Senator de Leon, Senator Padilla, and Sarah Sikitch at the conference announcing the Bag Ban.