Redondo Beach Councilman Ron Cawdrey and newly elected Hermosa Beach Councilwoman Etta Simpson have joined the unpredictable--and sometimes nasty--battle for a seat on the state Coastal Commission.
Cawdrey becomes the third Redondo Beach official to enter a crowded field of candidates for the appointive post, which must be filled by an elected official from Los Angeles County or Orange County. According to state law, the Senate Rules Committee, headed by Sen. David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), makes the appointment to the two-year post.
Cawdrey and Simpson join Redondo Beach Mayor Barbara Doerr and Councilman Jack Chapman as an unofficial and diverse South Bay delegation hoping to replace incumbent Commissioner Leo King, a two-term member who is a councilman in Baldwin Park in the San Gabriel Valley.
King, who serves as the panel's vice-chairman, is seeking reappointment, but his efforts are being opposed by a coalition of environmental groups who complain that he has a poor voting record on environmental issues. Residents of some coastal cities also complain that King should be replaced by a representative from a coastal area.
'Right in the Middle'
King has characterized himself as "right in the middle" on environmental issues, and has said it is important that inland cities, whose residents use the beaches, also be represented on the commission.
The 12-member Coastal Commission serves as a watchdog agency for the state's 1,100-mile coastline. Under the state Coastal Act, the commissioners are charged with protecting coastal resources, primarily by overseeing local government decisions that affect the coastline.
But while the South Bay candidates are united in their effort to replace King, the four local elected officials are by no means supporting one another. Indeed, their infighting has become as much an issue in the appointment process as their candidacies.
In February, Doerr was the first local official to express an interest in the coastal position. Her decision at that time to lobby elected officials from throughout Los Angeles County to support her bid raised the ire of the Redondo Beach City Council, including Cawdrey and Chapman. Unlike those of many South Bay cities, the mayor in Redondo Beach is not a member of the council.
The council, which has been at odds with Doerr over most major issues in the city, particularly those involving development along the coast, nominated Chapman for the seat and instructed Doerr to vote for him at a meeting of the Los Angeles County City Selection Committee.
The selection committee is one of four organizations from Los Angeles and Orange counties that submit nominations to the Senate Rules Committee to be considered for the coastal post. The selection committee is made up of the mayors of all 84 cities in Los Angeles County.
But at its meeting last month, the selection committee chose King and Doerr as its nominees for the seat, and forwarded their names to Roberti in Sacramento. Chapman was not nominated at the selection committee meeting.
The door for new candidates opened again several weeks later, however, when the Senate Rules Committee notified the selection committee and the other three nominating organizations that it wants more names to consider--although none of those already submitted has been ruled out.
At that point, Cawdrey stepped in.
"I wanted to go for it a long time ago," said Cawdrey, who is vice president of the Communications Workers of America Local 11513 and a one-term councilman. "When it became evident that the two people involved were not going to be acceptable, I started pushing for it."
Cawdrey, who described himself as an environmentalist, said he would represent a reasoned voice on the commission. He said he would be tied to no particular interests, and said he would vote independently on each issue that came before the commission.
His candidacy was unanimously endorsed by the City Council at its meeting April 8.
"Barbara (Doerr) has taken some positions that are totally anti-anything being built on the coast," he said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C., where he was attending a union convention. "I think that each proposal has to be taken on its own merit."
But Doerr, who also considers herself an environmentalist and who first became involved in local politics because of concerns about coastal development, disputes Cawdrey's claim and says she, too, would approach each issue with an open mind. She said Cawdrey's decision to join the competition is based on local politics.
"It is an extreme embarrassment," she said. "The City Council is sending confusing messages to anybody and everybody. First they supported Chapman, and then a month later they supported Cawdrey."
Letters Ask for Support
Cawdrey, who is a Democrat, said he entered the contest because it is unlikely that Chapman, who is a Republican, or any other Republican will be selected by the Democrat-controlled Senate Rules Committee. Doerr is also a Republican.
Appointments to the 12-member commission, which the Deukmejian Administration has unsuccessfully sought to abolish, have become increasingly politicized in recent years. The governor, who is a Republican, and the speaker of the Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee each appoints four members to the panel.
Last week, Cawdrey sent letters to cities throughout the county asking for their support at a meeting of the selection committee on May 1, when the committee will consider additional nominations for the seat. The Redondo Beach City Council has instructed Doerr to nominate and vote for Cawdrey at that meeting.
Cawdrey's letter was presented to several South Bay city councils on Tuesday night. In a heated debate in Redondo Beach, Doerr stated for the record that she opposes Cawdrey's candidacy. In Torrance, the City Council, which has supported Doerr's bid for the post, voted to support Cawdrey, too. In Palos Verdes Estates, the City Council could not reach a consensus, so it left the decision up to its delegate to the selection committee.
In Hermosa Beach, Mayor Tony DeBellis, saying he had had enough of Redondo Beach politics, turned to his left and suggested that Simpson, sitting at her second council meeting, join the contest.
"We don't need to support anybody from Redondo Beach," DeBellis said. "We have our own candidate."
A visibly surprised Simpson, who finished first out five candidates for three council seats in the election April 8, said she would be honored to serve on the Coastal Commission.
"I am encouraged when a community such as ours has equal rights with major cities," Simpson said in an interview. "I believe in protecting the environment to the fullest extent possible."
A Proven Record
Simpson, who is a Democrat, said she has a proven record of working to preserve the natural resources in Hermosa Beach. Among other things, she sponsored a successful open-space initiative in the city in 1984.
Simpson will begin sending letters this week to delegates to the selection committee, urging them to support her bid for the commission.
"I think a major difference between me and the others is that our council unanimously supports me," Simpson said. "I also have recent support from the community in that I was just elected to the council."
A spokesman for the Senate Rules Committee said no decisions have been made about the nominees.