By Jennifer Savage | Published 2016/03/21
Public trust further damaged
A month after the Commission disregarded the input of thousands of Californians to fire Executive Director Charles Lester, tensions from that decision continued to run high. As mentioned in an earlier post, social justice, education and environmental advocates held a press conference calling for more transparency and formal inclusion in the upcoming hiring process. Behind them, a contingent of protesters from Venice waved signs accusing Commissioners of attempting to sell off California’s coast.
The drama didn’t stop outside. After multiple speakers criticized the Commission’s behavior during public comment, Chair Steve Kinsey opted to disallow continuation, much to the chagrin of those waiting to speak. Chair Kinsey wasn’t able to stop fellow Commissioner Wendy Mitchell from delivering an out-of-order lengthy defense of Dr. Lester’s firing, however, despite several attempts to bring a halt to her remarks.
An even more outrageous exchange took place between Commissioner Mark Vargas and a member of the public who approached him during a break to ask a question about comments Commissioner Vargas had made in Spanish the day before. In response, Vargas repeatedly cursed at the constituent, demanding she go away. Instead, she recounted the incident during Friday’s public comment, which prompted what the L.A. Times called a “sorry-not sorry” apology from Commissioner Vargas. (Watch the exchange here.)
In the midst of all this, Commissioners appointed longtime Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth as interim executive director by a vote of 10-1 with Commissioner Roberto Uranga dissenting due to stated concerns about Mr. Ainsworth having an unfair advantage if opting to apply for the position permanently.
Mr. Ainsworth has been with the agency for 27 years, serving as the commission's senior deputy director since 2011. Like Dr. Lester, Mr. Ainsworth has a reputation for being well respected by the staff, well-versed in the Coastal Act and committed to public service.
The Commission also announced plans to bring in an outside recruitment agency to assist in finding the next executive director, an effort that is expected to take several months if not longer.
Public access victory
In regular business, Commissioners voted to uphold the public’s right to access the beach in Rancho Palos Verdes. Residents of the area tried, with support of the city, to change street parking from public to private, which would have effectively kept visitors from being able to easily utilize the beach, trails and amenities in the area.
Many people spoke on behalf of maintaining public parking and ultimately Commissioners voted unanimously to support staff’s recommendation against the proposal.
In related parking/access news, the next Coastal Commission hearing takes place Wednesday, April 13 through Friday, April 15 in Santa Rosa and is expected to bring out hundreds of people determined to protest State Parks’ request to start charging parking fees at previously free lots.
Former Assemblymember Virginia Strom-Martin recently called out the state legislature for failing to adequate fund California’s park system. Additionally, Surfrider Foundation’s Sonoma chapter is part of a coalition fighting the fees and offers several ways to get involved.