Six years after the death of the man who wrote California’s landmark coastal protection act, his most famous quote keeps echoing:
“The coast is never saved. It’s always being saved.”
What did Peter Douglas, the first executive director of the California Coastal Commission, mean by that?
He meant the job would never be done because he understood the economic and political forces that conspire to bushwhack the goals of protection and public access to California’s 1,100-mile coastal wonder.
Smart guy, Peter Douglas, and this week you can almost hear him calling out, “I told you so.”
As my Los Angeles Times colleague Rosanna Xia reported, there’s been a development in the case of Silicon Valley billionaire Vinod Khosla, who’s been fighting to keep the public off a beach it has enjoyed for decades near Half Moon Bay.
Not only is Khosla appealing to the U.S. Supreme Court to keep the public away from property he bought in 2008, but his attorney is challenging the Coastal Act itself, calling it Orwellian.
For those who need a quick history lesson, the Coastal Act grew out of voter-approved Proposition 20 in 1972, which established laws to prevent the private commandeering of the state’s greatest natural treasure. It fixed the principle that no individual owns the California coast, everyone does.
Khosla, who has established himself as one of the most arrogant people in state history, is now Exhibit A in the case for why we need the Coastal Act more than ever.
The other current threat to coastal protection can be found in a San Diego courtroom, where the nonprofit group Spotlight on Coastal Corruption is suing two current and three former California coastal commissioners for hundreds of alleged violations of rules regarding private communications.
When I dropped in, I came away with nothing but questions, and with new reasons to worry. For one thing, the state attorney general’s office, which is defending the commissioners, had offered a deal in which taxpayers would have had to fork over $250,000 to settle the case.
Why should we have to pay a nickel?
Spotlight rejected the deal, and if it wins, the commissioners could be fined millions of dollars. Would we pick up the tab for that too?
Deputy Attorney General Joel Jacobs made clear that his defense of the commissioners hangs, in part, on the argument that “substantial” rather than complete compliance with the rules on private meetings — known as ex partes — is all that’s required of coastal commissioners.
Really? Then why have rules at all if cutting corners is OK?
As the L.A. Times has reported, there’s no question that on occasion, commissioners did not follow the rules. They either did not file reports detailing the nature of private communications with people who favored or opposed proposed projects, or they filed the reports late, or they did not fully explain what the conversations were about.
Or they didn’t write the reports themselves. They let the lobbyists do it for them, and that’s what was entered into the public record.
Shouldn’t they all be set adrift on a milk-carton-and-coconut raft based on that alone?
This rotten system put the public, and those with opposing views on a project, at a disadvantage. Several lawsuits have been filed over the sloppy handling of ex partes by commissioners, and last year, an Orange County judge was flabbergasted in a case involving a coastal housing project in which six of 10 commissioners did not appear to have followed the rules on private communications.