Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Conflicts of interest, lack of transparency trouble the California Coastal Commission

In a controversial and unpopular move, the California Coastal Commission last week held a closed-door meeting to fire executive director Charles Lester, Tony Barboza and Dan Weikel report for the Los Angeles Times. While the commission cited leadership issues, Lester's supporters say the commission was driven by a desire to increase coastal development. (Times photo by Allen J. Schaben: Places like Huntington Beach, Calif. could be the site of proposed development projects)

The closed-door meeting wasn't a surprise; the commission's history is steeped in a lack of transparency, columnist Steve Lopez writes for the Times. "Consultants representing developers don't have to register as lobbyists or reveal what they're paid. And critics, including former commissioners, say those consultants are way too cozy with the commissioners, who vote on their projects. For their part, commissioners often do not provide detailed descriptions of their communications with lobbyists and project backers. All of that information should be posted and available to the public."

Lester "knows more about the 40-year-old voter-approved Coastal Act that protects our 1,100-mile shoreline than anyone in the world," Lopez writes in another column. "At times during the meeting, Commissioners Wendy Mitchell and Dayna Bochco gabbed like school kids on the dais, and they cast seventh-grade smirks at press row when colleagues took turns bashing the news media. If California's media deserve a beating, in their diminished state, it's for not keeping a close enough watch on this all-powerful agency and the constant pressure applied by hired guns for billions of dollars' worth of development projects."

On Tuesday state legislators introduced a bill that "would require the hired guns who represent developers to register as lobbyists and play by the rules of full disclosure that apply to every other state agency," Lopez reports in yet another column. He says the basic problem with the commission is that the "commissioners are appointees, but half of them hold elective office, and their fundraisers are populated by lobbyists, developers and other politicians. It's all too cozy and too shady at the same time, and there's little or no cross-checking between local campaign donations and potential conflicts of interest."

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