Fifteen years after it was created to turn back a storm tide of development along the state's 1,100-mile oceanfront, the California Coastal Commission is no longer an impartial, independent, high court of the coast.
Instead, decisions governing projects worth billions of dollars have become tangled in a thicket of legislative politics and back-room maneuvering that the commission's creators had sought to avoid.
In a four-month examination of commission records, court pleadings and other public documents and in interviews with more than 50 people--commissioners, agency staff members, environmentalists, developers and others, The Times found that:
--In what some see as a threat to the commission's integrity, Democratic politicians have named political fund-raisers to the panel, raising questions about the influence of political giving on the regulation of coastal development.
Emerge as Swing Votes
--Two commissioners who raise money for prominent Democrats have emerged as key swing votes, siding alternately with developers and environmentalists, and often decide the fate of important projects.
--On one occasion, a Chevron Corp. official complained that she was approached by a commissioner who said the company could win approval of an oil-drilling project by hiring a politically well-connected Sacramento lobbyist, a charge that the commissioner denied.
--Politicians who appoint coastal commissioners have compromised the commission's independence by attempting to directly influence commission votes.
--Commission business that should be conducted in public often is not. Commission members regularly receive information privately from interested parties, contrary to advice from the state attorney general.
The panel at the center of the controversy traces its origins to 1972 when California voters--alarmed by the fast-food stands and high-rise condos that flooded the coast in the 1960s--approved Proposition 20 by a 55% majority. The initiative wrested control of seaside development from cities and counties and vested it in a new agency, the California Coastal Commission.
Under the mandate of Proposition 20, the panel all but halted coastal development while it developed a master plan for the oceanfront. Rejecting much of the plan, the Legislature instead passed the Coastal Act of 1976, which allowed local governments to regain their power to regulate coastal development by adopting new land-use plans and zoning ordinances.
A reconstituted commission was responsible for approving the local plans. In the interim, the commission retained the power to govern development in a coastal zone stretching the length of California and varying in width from 1,000 yards to five miles.
At the outset, the commission was dominated by conservationists, largely because of the influence of then-Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., a liberal Democrat with strong environmental leanings. The governor shares responsibility for commission appointments equally with the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Rules Committee. Under current law, each appointing authority names four commissioners, who serve at the pleasure of the appointing officials.
With the departure of Brown and the 1982 election of George Deukmejian, a conservative Republican who has called for abolition of the commission, the balance of power shifted dramatically.
Deukmejian in early 1983 appointed four new commissioners who, to a large extent, shared his view that land-use planning is best left to local officials. In addition, the Republican governor drastically reduced the agency's budget and staff.
In the fiscal year ended June 30, for example, the commission's budget was $9.1 million, down 13% from five years ago. As a result, the commission cut its staff to 118, down from a peak of 188, closed its Eureka office and fell further behind in coastal planning. To date, the commission has approved only 51 of the 130 local coastal plans it must eventually consider.
Tilt Toward Developers
The governor was not the only politician whose work reshaped the commission. In the early 1980s, the Legislature's Democratic leaders appointed several commissioners who appeared to be more sympathetic to developers than their predecessors.
In February, 1986, for example, the Senate Rules Committee appointed San Diego businessman Gilbert R. Contreras to the commission, replacing Marshall B. Grossman, a Los Angeles attorney known as an uncompromising environmentalist.
The new appointments effectively split the commission into three camps. On one side are the Deukmejian commissioners, more sympathetic than previous commissioners to the concerns of landowners and developers. On the other side are the remaining environmentalists. In the middle is a third group, a bloc of three or four commissioners who side alternately with conservationists and developers and who often determine the success or failure of multimillion-dollar projects.
The emergence of the swing votes, many observers familiar with the commission's work said, helped to create the politically charged atmosphere in which behind-the-scenes maneuvering has become more prevalent than ever before.
Michael L. Fischer, the commission's former executive director, noted that the commission was formed to remove coastal planning from the "good old boy" atmosphere that permeated the state Legislature.
Today, he said, "The commission process . . . has returned to the good-old-boys days, returned to the logrolling days. . . ." Fischer is the executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation's largest environmental advocacy group.
As a result, the commission "has no direction; it is unpredictable," one senior staff member said. "The votes change from meeting to meeting. It is just adrift."
The staff member asked not to be named for fear of reprisal from members of the commission.
Prominent Swing Votes
The most prominent swing votes are David L. Malcolm, 33, a Chula Vista mortgage banker and real estate developer, and Mark Nathanson, 48, a Beverly Hills real estate investor. Both have played key roles in important commission decisions.
Last December, for example, the commission approved a land-use plan for the 27-mile Malibu coast that eliminated many environmental safeguards that the panel had endorsed in 1985. Nathanson lobbied hard--and successfully--for the new plan, several commissioners said.
In another case, the commission last year authorized by a 7-5 vote construction of a controversial three-lane bypass around Devil's Slide, a scenic segment of California 1 near Pacifica in Northern California. Critics contended that the new highway would open acres of what had been largely agricultural land to major commercial and residential development. Malcolm and Nathanson joined the Deukmejian appointees to push the plan through.
Malcolm and Nathanson are Republicans, yet both were appointed to the commission by a powerful Democrat, Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco). Malcolm joined the panel in January, 1984, and Nathanson was appointed two years later. Both raise money for Brown and other prominent Democrats, including Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp and Controller Gray Davis.
In addition to raising money, Nathanson gave $14,900 of his own money to politicians last year, including $6,500 to Brown. Long active in the Beverly Hills real estate market, Nathanson has extensive contacts in the entertainment community and is said by some to be Brown's entree to Hollywood.
"He's the guy who gets Willie into Spago after hours," one legislator said, referring to the fashionable Sunset Strip restaurant that is a haunt of film stars. Nathanson was a longtime consultant to Aaron Spelling Productions and earlier this year became vice chairman of MGM Grand Air, a venture of Nevada financier Kirk Kerkorian.
Last year, Nathanson orchestrated a party at the Beverly Hills estate of actor George Hamilton to honor Brown's 52nd birthday. The guest list included actress Joan Collins and entertainer Sammy Davis Jr., as well as Van de Kamp.
Nathanson refused to discuss his fund-raising activities. "It has nothing to do with the California Coastal Commission," he said.
Since 1967, when he was named to the Los Angeles Board of Animal Regulation, Nathanson has served on more than half a dozen city, county and state commissions. Last November, he was fined $13,400 for failing to disclose millions of dollars in business interests, including real estate loans and a consulting contract with Spelling Productions, while he served on the state's Little Hoover Commission, a government watchdog agency.
In early 1974, six months after he stepped down as chairman of the Los Angeles Building and Safety Commission, Nathanson pleaded no contest to a charge of attempted grand theft. The charge was filed after he took an envelope containing $2,500 from a man seeking a zoning change . He was fined $2,500 and placed on probation by a judge who compared Nathanson's actions to those of "an ordinary bunco operator."
Nathanson said Brown was aware of his conviction when the Speaker appointed him to the commission.
Malcolm, too, has ties to Brown. In June of last year, Carlsbad Investors Ltd., a major political contributor that had been involved in a longstanding dispute involving some of its coastal property, gave $2,500 to Brown's political organization. Records show that the firm mailed its check to 625 3rd Ave. in Chula Vista--Malcolm's business address.
In an interview with The Times, Malcolm declined to discuss his fund-raising activities. A spokesman for Carlsbad Investors also refused comment. Brown refused several requests for an interview on the subject of the Coastal Commission.
In the summer of 1986, Malcolm told a representative of Chevron Corp. that the company could win approval of a $150-million offshore oil drilling project by hiring a politically well-connected lobbyist, company officials told The Times. The lobbyist's clients often make significant campaign contributions.
During a July 8 hearing on Chevron's plan to station an oil rig known as Platform Gail off Port Hueneme, Malcolm arranged to be introduced to Chevron attorney Cynthia Norris and asked Norris to call him, company officials said. Two days later--after the commission rejected the Chevron project on a 6-6 vote--Norris telephoned Malcolm, she told The Times.
She said Malcolm told her that he had spoken to other commissioners and said that "dollar-wise, we could work out our differences without spending much money" on additional environmental protections.
She said Malcolm suggested that Chevron "should be talking to" Sacramento lobbyist Bernard Teitelbaum, who represented other companies before the commission. She said Malcolm told her that Teitelbaum could deliver the votes needed to win approval of the drilling project. Norris said she called Teitelbaum, who told her that he was unfamiliar with Chevron's project but would be glad to represent the company.
'Something Was Wrong'
"I felt something was wrong," Norris told The Times. "We'd spent thousands of dollars. . . . It was a complex project. . . . For us to be referred by a commissioner to someone who did not know about our project seemed strange. . . ."
Norris said she later called Chevron's usual lobbyist, who told her that Teitelbaum had a reputation as a major political fund-raiser and suggested that Chevron avoid him. Chevron did not hire Teitelbaum.
The Platform Gail project was considered again in September and turned down 8 to 4. Malcolm voted no. Two months later, after Chevron filed a lawsuit challenging denial of the permit, the commission approved the plan by a 5-4 vote. Malcolm did not attend that meeting.
Refusing a request for an interview, Teitelbaum told The Times he has a longstanding policy of not talking to the media.
"I can't believe anyone would say such a thing," Malcolm said of Norris' contention that he referred Chevron to Teitelbaum. Malcolm said that he "consistently" opposed Platform Gail and that when he did not yield to Chevron's pressures to change his vote, an oil company consultant threatened to retaliate against him politically. Chevron officials denied pressuring or threatening Malcolm.
Norris told The Times that investigators from the California attorney general's office subsequently interviewed her about her conversations with Malcolm. She said she gave the investigators a memo on her contacts with the commissioner.
Chief Deputy Atty. Gen. Nelson Kempsky declined to discuss details of the official inquiry but acknowledged that his office had probed allegations that "one or more commissioners had offered to trade votes . . . in exchange for financial or other benefits." He said the preliminary investigation uncovered "no evidence to support charges of criminal misconduct."
Malcolm has recommended Teitelbaum to at least one other permit applicant, according to a source involved in that incident. Malcolm denied that he has ever referred an applicant to a specific lobbyist, explaining that, if asked, "I give three names or refer them to (the commission) staff."
Several commissioners said they do not think it proper for their colleagues to recommend lobbyists to those who have business before the commission.
"In my opinion, it's totally unethical," said Commissioner Robert Franco, the commission vice chairman and mayor of Del Rey Oaks. "I just think it's outrageous. . . . If that has occurred, it is deplorable. And I'm very happy I didn't know about it."
Teitelbaum is regarded by many as the most prominent of the lobbyists who in recent years have carved out a specialized practice by shepherding clients' projects through the complex and confusing coastal permit process.
"Bernard is virtually invisible," one lobbyist said.
"He never speaks to the commission (in public)," said a commission staff member who asked not to be named. "His clients have other lobbyists to do technical presentations. Teitelbaum is there to deliver the votes."
Unlike the advocates who lobby the Legislature, those who represent clients before the Coastal Commission are almost never required to disclose their activity. They must formally register as lobbyists only if they are attempting to change broad commission policy on such issues as offshore oil drilling. There is no registration requirement for those lobbying on behalf of specific projects, according to the state Fair Political Practices Commission.
Teitelbaum's methods sometimes remain a mystery even to those who hire him. One attorney explained that on her recommendation a client hired Teitelbaum "to do what Bernard does. . . ." Asked what that is, she said, "I never know what Bernard does."
Whatever it is, Teitelbaum has learned to do it well.
"When a lobbyist like Teitelbaum is working a case," another Coastal Commission staff member said, "it makes it a lot more difficult for us to convince the commission of our position."
Aide to Moscone
Teitelbaum learned many of his political lessons during his tenure as the chief aide to the late George Moscone, who served for seven years in the state Senate and for three years as mayor of San Francisco.
During that time, according to those who know him, Teitelbaum developed a relationship with Brown. Brown was both Moscone's political ally and personal friend.
After Moscone's assassination in 1978, Teitelbaum put his political acumen to work in Sacramento. In the late 1970s, Teitelbaum emerged as "the first coastal lobbyist" working for private business interests, said Norbert H. Dall, a former Sierra Club lobbyist who represents local governments before the Coastal Commission.
A series of letters and memos involving a 1984 effort to exempt property in San Diego County from Coastal Act protections offer a glimpse of the way Teitelbaum and his clients pursue their goals.
In documents dated March 8, 1984, Teitelbaum outlined a five-stage campaign to win passage of a Senate bill that would have removed about 4,000 acres of Carlsbad farmland from the jurisdiction of the Coastal Commission.
In his letter, Teitelbaum quoted a fee of $74,000 for a six-month lobbying effort. In addition, Teitelbaum suggested retaining up to 10 lobbyists to work on the project and a "political budget," which he said would be discussed later.
A second lobbyist retained by these developers estimated that the project would require campaign contributions of between $75,000 and $150,000. That memo did not specify who would receive the money.
The bill was eventually defeated. The Times could not determine how much money actually was spent.
'Be Good to Me'
"What (Teitelbaum) does is, he gives the client a budget for campaign contributions," explained another consultant, who requested anonymity. Lobbyists whose clients make contributions can then tell politicians, " 'My clients have done all of this; you've got to be good to me.'
"It is not an illegitimate game. People give campaign contributions in the hope that they will get a good ruling."
Many of the permit applicants who contribute to politicians do win favorable decisions.
In 1983 and 1984, when Teitelbaum was lobbying for Summa Corp.'s $1-billion plan to develop the Ballona Wetlands near Marina del Rey, records show that Summa gave California politicians more than $470,000. Among them were Brown, whose political committees received a total of $33,000, and Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles), who got $14,000. The project was approved in 1984 and again last year.
Occidental Petroleum, another Teitelbaum client, in 1986 gave more than $100,000 to political candidates in California. Brown received contributions of $10,000, including $6,500 given in connection with his Sept. 24 dinner at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Roberti received $5,000.
Malcolm and Nathanson are not the only coastal commissioners who raise money for politicians. Duane B. Garrett, who leads the environmental bloc on the panel, is a major fund-raiser for the national Democratic Party. Last year, Garrett, an attorney and art dealer, hosted separate fund-raisers for Roberti and Brown at Garrett's home in Tiburon, an affluent San Francisco suburb. In addition, Garrett and his wife contributed nearly $58,000 of their own money to candidates for state office. Garrett was appointed by the Senate Rules Committee, at the behest, Roberti said, of the Sierra Club and other environmental groups.
"The general word among developers is that this (contributing) is absolutely common practice," one developer who asked not to be named said. "Anybody that wants to get anything done makes heavy donations."
Question for Developers
For developers who regularly make political contributions, the presence of fund-raisers on the commission poses this question: "Am I expected to give now to a given person because if I don't give, it's going to have some conceivable effect on the (commission's) vote?" said Joseph M. Gughemetti, a property rights advocate and a San Mateo land-use attorney who has been one of the commission's strongest critics.
Gughemetti added, "I do not think the appointing powers (in the Legislature) should be in a position to take money from developers (who have business before the Coastal Commission) and then turn around and claim there is no relationship to how their commissioners vote.
"They ought not to take those checks, or their commissioners should be required to disqualify themselves from voting on those matters."
The law does not allow commissioners, half of whom are elected officials, to vote on matters that involve contributors to their own campaigns. But commissioners have wide latitude when they raise money for others.
The Political Reform Act bars commissioners from soliciting contributions of $250 or more from anyone who has business pending before the agency. But in accompanying regulations, the term "solicitation" is broadly defined. For example, a commissioner who allows his name to be used on an invitation to a fund-raiser is not considered to be soliciting money. And a commissioner is legally entitled to ask for campaign contributions from corporations that regularly appear before the agency during periods when no permits are pending.
Some permit applicants have complained that on occasion commissioners have gone too far.
One applicant, who insisted on anonymity, said a commissioner once encouraged him to donate to "a number" of political candidates, but insisted that the donations would not affect the commissioner's vote. The applicant said he did not make the contributions.
Only a few of the developers contacted by The Times agreed to discuss their dealings with the Coastal Commission, and then only if they were guaranteed anonymity. Most refused to talk at all.
"We've got to go back to these guys," one developer explained, referring to the commissioners. "If we (foul) . . . our own bed, how can we keep going?"
While developers may try to influence the commission indirectly through political contributions, the politicians who appoint commissioners can be more straightforward.
The most recent intrusion came July 7 when the state Senate Rules Committee abruptly dismissed Contreras in an unsuccessful effort to defeat Occidental Petroleum's plan to drill oil wells in Pacific Palisades.
The way that Contreras lost his seat indicates the extent to which partisan politics has affected the agency.
Long an opponent of the Occidental drilling project, Roberti, the Senate Rules Committee chairman, on June 25 wrote each commissioner urging rejection of the project, contending that the area is prone to landslides.
A few days before the July 7 hearing, Roberti's staff was told that Contreras would support the Occidental project and that the commissioner had told others that approval was assured by a 7-5 vote.
During the hearing, while testimony was in progress, Contreras was handed a letter thanking him for his service on the commission and notifying him that the Rules Committee had replaced him as of 5:35 p.m. that day. The committee's staff liaison to the commission, Christine Minnehan, was quickly sworn in to cast a "no" vote.
"That is a lousy, rotten way to conduct the state's business," fumed Commissioner Dorill Wright.
Later, Contreras told reporters that he had actually planned to vote against the project.
"Had I known . . . that my services as a commissioner would be dependent upon my unconditional agreement with all of Sen. Roberti's views, I would not have accepted that appointment," the ex-commissioner said the next day. "I am no person's puppet."
Roberti's press secretary, Robert Forsyth, said later that it would be "absurd" for any appointee "not to understand they are on . . . (the commission) . . . to at a minimum reflect the philosophy of the appointing person or agency."
In the end, the oil company won by a vote of 7 to 5 after Franco--an appointee of Brown who had been considered a solid environmental vote--sided with Occidental.
In a June interview, Roberti said he sees nothing wrong with informing commissioners of his views on pending matters, as long as it is done publicly. "The best way to do it, to get your point across, is to write a letter," Roberti said. "It's part of the public record."
But much of the communication between commission members and those who have business before them is never made public.
Officially, the practice is known as " ex parte communication"--privately receiving information from those who have dealings with the commission, out of the earshot of opponents. Ex parte literally means "one-sided."
The law requires that the commission conduct its business in public, according to Deputy Atty. Gen. Anthony Summers, the commission's chief legal adviser. But Summers said there are no statutes that set specific guidelines for ex parte communication.
However, in several opinions, the attorney general's office has warned commissioners to strictly limit private communication with permit applicants.
In a 1981 letter to the commissioners, Deputy Atty. Gen. Richard C. Jacobs noted that California courts have determined that the Coastal Commission is a quasi-judicial agency; that is, it publicly weighs evidence on both sides of an issue and attempts to sit as an impartial judge.
Jacobs wrote, " . . . The courts have consistently stated that evidence received in ex parte communications by agency members outside the public hearing process violates the rights of the parties to the proceeding and may invalidate the agency's decision."
The attorney general has also advised commissioners that they should publicly reveal all ex parte contacts, a practice that is not often followed, critics said.
Not everyone believes that ex parte communication is a bad idea.
'It's My Job to Learn'
"I'm an elected official," as are half of the 12 commissioners, Malcolm, a Chula Vista city councilman, said in an interview. "Can you imagine me telling people in Chula Vista, 'I'm not going to talk to you. . . . I ought to be thrown out of office . . . because my job is to be responsive to the people who put me there. . . . It's my job to learn and be educated."
Malcolm said he publicly discloses private contacts only if he receives new information about a project as a result.
Malcolm and other commissioners were critical of environmentalists, especially members of the Sierra Club who have complained about private information-sharing among developers and commissioners.
"Here's the pot calling the kettle black," Malcolm said. "There's nobody that lobbies the commission and calls the commissioners . . . more than the Sierra Club."
In fact, it was an environmentalist who figured prominently in one of the most controversial incidents involving the issue of secret communication.
Commissioner Garrett played a key role in a March, 1986, decision involving an application by Long Beach-based Pacific Texas Pipeline Co. to build an oil pipeline and a supertanker terminal in Los Angeles Harbor.
Opposed to the project but convinced that it would be approved, Garrett stood up at the meeting and summoned a Sierra Club representative into an outside hallway. While other commissioners watched, Garrett and the Sierra Club member were joined by Teitelbaum, who was working for Pacific Texas; a company representative, and a Los Angeles city official.
When they returned, Pacific Texas had agreed to reduce the size of the terminal and spend up to $20 million to restore a polluted estuary, Batiquitos Lagoon, in San Diego County. With a push from Garrett, the project was approved by a 9-3 vote.
In an interview, Garrett said his purpose was to, in effect, bluff Pacific Texas into making concessions. "I went and told them, 'You guys are going to lose . . .' " Garrett recalled. "I gave them my bottom line, and they came back very quickly and said, 'We'll do it.' "
Garrett's role in the Pacific Texas negotiations upset Commissioner Steve MacElvaine of Morro Bay, one of the Deukmejian appointees who ultimately voted against the proposal. "I had no idea of what, if anything, took place outside," MacElvaine recalled in an interview.
'The Public's Business'
In retrospect, Garrett said, "Frankly I wouldn't do it again because . . . it's the public's business."
Garrett is not the only commissioner who has met privately with applicants for coastal permits.
Over the weekend of June 13-14, Commission Chairman Michael Wornum, a Larkspur city councilman, accompanied private consultant Robert Ryan on a visit to a Northern California client who was seeking permission to expand a resort on the Mendocino County coast.
Wornum later explained, "(It was) more social than anything else." Asked if he discussed the pending business with the developer, Wornum said, "Not very much. He mentioned that he had something coming up. . . ."
At the commission's July 8 meeting, Wornum left the room before the request was considered, although he told a reporter he favored its approval. It was defeated by a single vote.
The issue of ex parte communication has also been raised in the courts.
In a 1984 lawsuit, an environmental group asked a judge to overturn the commission's approval of the Summa Corp. development near Marina del Rey, alleging that the decision was not based ". . . solely upon evidence introduced at the hearing." And last March, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties sued the commission over its approval of Platform Julius, a proposed offshore oil rig. The suit charges that the commission's decision was illegal, in part because commissioners had ex parte contacts with representatives of the oil company.
Another case that prompted a lawsuit involved the hotly debated local coastal land-use program for the bay front section of Chula Vista, south of San Diego.
After a long dispute with the city over wetlands preservation and other issues, the Coastal Commission approved the plan in March, 1984, over the objections of its staff.
Sierra Club Suit
Seeking to overturn the decision, the Sierra Club filed suit, alleging that the public had been excluded from "secret oral communications, made to individual commissioners . . ." by powerful political figures, including the governor. The lawsuit is still pending.
A central figure in the controversy was Malcolm. Although he excused himself from the actual vote, the suit alleges that Malcolm privately pushed other commissioners to approve the plan.
Melvin L. Nutter, then the commission chairman, recalled that Malcolm telephoned him on March 2, 1984, about three weeks before the Chula Vista vote. Nutter opposed the project.
Malcolm, Nutter recalled, ". . . said that Willie Brown really thought this was a wonderful plan and that I shouldn't at all be surprised if I . . . received a telephone call from Willie Brown. . . ." Malcolm "indicated that it would serve me well if I stood to one side and didn't do anything to obstruct the effort . . ." Nutter said. Nutter, who voted against the project, was removed from the commission by Brown last year.
Malcolm refused to discuss that incident with The Times. In a deposition taken in connection with the Chula Vista lawsuit, Malcolm said he did not recall the conversation with Nutter. In that 92-page deposition, Malcolm on 96 occasions said he could not recall events about which he was being questioned in connection with his lobbying efforts.
At a commission meeting last October, the public got a rare glimpse of the intensity that commissioner-to-commissioner lobbying sometimes reaches. Once again, the incident involved Malcolm.
MacElvaine, a Deukmejian appointee, interrupted a hearing in Los Angeles to complain about Malcolm's private lobbying on behalf of the Grupe Development Co. of Stockton. The company was seeking a partial rebate of a $540,000 development fee that it had paid in 1984.
In an interview earlier this year, MacElvaine recalled that during the hearing Malcolm left his chair and walked over to MacElvaine's seat on the rostrum and began whispering in his ear. MacElvaine said Malcolm cautioned him against voting on projects promoted by lobbyists with which MacElvaine had a "problem."
"I told him, 'I don't have any problem with lobbyist X,' and he (Malcolm) says, 'Look, lobbyist X is a major fund-raiser for senator so-and-so, and the senator is going to give you a call.' I said, 'Back off,' and he kept pushing the point."
MacElvaine added, "I warned him twice and he kept pushing at me . . . so I reached up and I grabbed the microphone and I stuck it up into his mouth and I said, 'If you keep talking like that, do it on the record."
Malcolm backed away. But MacElvaine was so infuriated that he picked up the microphone and, in a voice quavering in anger, told the audience, "My blood pressure is about ready to hit the moon. . . ."
He continued, "If any commissioner ever pulls that stunt on me again . . . I am going to demand that the attorney general prosecute them. That is not to be done. . . . No commissioner should ever have any pressure put on him by the Legislature, by the appointing authorities or anybody else."
The intrusion of politics has hurt the commission's ability to do its job, said several who have watched the commission's work over the years.
The point was underscored in a recent report on the commission by the U.S. Department of Commerce, which evaluates the commission's performance in administering the federal coastal zone management program.
The report said the department ". . . believes that as long as the public perception exists that the commission's actions are motivated by improper influences, the commission lacks the complete confidence of the public and is unable to play an effective leadership role in coastal issues. The commission should take immediate steps to regain the respect of the public for the integrity of its decision-making process."
'Desert the Commission'
In a speech to the Town Hall of California, Nutter said, ". . . People that have been involved in and concerned about responsible coastal planning and development . . . have tended to walk away and desert the commission . . . partly because of the decisions the commission has made, but just as much because of the way the commission has been making its decisions."
Commissioner Charles Warren, one of the principal authors of the 1976 Coastal Act, said, "The citizen interest groups have kind of disappeared. . . . And so you have . . . 12 political appointees with agendas of their own, meeting in the basement of some hotel, deciding multimillion-dollar issues.
"It's kind of tempting to think that nobody gives a damn and so you do whatever you want."
On the other side of the environmental spectrum, an official of a major oil company said that she shares those concerns. Susan Price Callister, a senior land division attorney with Chevron, said commissioners should be less politically motivated and more predictable, "like . . . Mel Nutter and (Marshall) Grossman."
"Even though they were no friends of developers or oil companies," Callister said, "at least they read the material, they came prepared and applied the facts and the law and voted accordingly. They had integrity."
PROPOSALS FOR CHANGE Only major changes in state law can restore the California Coastal Commission to its independent, nonpolitical status, according to many who have followed the commission's work.
Three who have a special interest in the commission suggested these changes:
Marshall B. Grossman, a former commissioner
Prohibit ex parte communication between commissioners, applicants and opponents on pending commission business. Violators would be fined and affected commission decisions invalidated.
Prohibit all fundraising efforts by any commissioner for any candidate, political action committee or campaign fund. Violators could be fined and removed from the commission.
Commissioner Duane B. Garrett
Replace the politically appointed commission with five full-time elected commissioners, who would be paid salaries comparable to state Supreme Court justices.
David Roberti (D-Los Angeles), State Senate Rules Committee Chairman
Establish technical and scientific qualifications for prospective commission appointees.
Clarify how and when commissioners can receive ex parte communication.
THE COASTAL COMMISSION MEMBERS GOVERNOR'S APPOINTEES: Steve MacElvaine, 42 Republican, Morro Bay. Cattle rancher. Former San Luis Obispo County supervisor. Appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian Feb. 17, 1983, reappointed April, 1987. Donald A. McInnis, 67 Republican. Fallbrook, Former vice president of Northrop Corp. Environmental sciences consultant. Appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian Feb. 17, 1983, reappointed April, 1987. Dorill B. Wright, 66, Republican. Mayor of Port Hueneme and private businessman. Former president League of California Cities. Appointed by Gov. Deukmejian Feb. 17, 1983, reappointed April, 1987. Thomas J. McMurray Jr., 49, Republican. Eureka. City councilman and private businessman. Appointed by Gov. Deukmejian Feb. 17, 1983, reappointed April, 1987. ASSEMBLY SPEAKER'S APPOINTEES Charles Warren, 60 Democrat. Sacramento. Attorney. Former state assemblyman. Former chairman, President's Council On Environnmental Quality. Appointed by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown Oct. 8, 1985. Robert B. Franco, 65, Democrat. Del Rey Oaks mayor. Retired foreign language instructor. Appointed by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Feb. 14, 1983. Reappointed February, 1987. Mark Nathanson, 48 Republican. Beverly Hills. Real estate developer. Member, Los Angeles County Beaches and Harbors Commission, other civic bodies. Member, Little Hoover Commission. Appointed by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Jan. 8, 1986. David L. Malcolm, 33, Republican. Chula Vista councilman and real estate developer. Member, Chula Vista Redevelopment Agency. Appointed by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, Jan. 13, 1984. SENATE RULES COMMITTEE APPOINTEES Gilbert Contreras, 49 Democrat. Lemon Grove. Real estate developer. President, Mexican American Business and Professional Organization. Appointed by Senate Rules Committee, Feb. 20, 1986. Removed July 7 and replaced by Christine Minnehan. Duane B. Garrett, 40 Democrat. Tiburon. Attorney. Art Collector. Political fund raiser. Board member, League of Conservation Voters. Appointed by Senate Rules Committee, Sept. 1, 1985. Michael Wornum, 62 Democrat. Larkspur city councilman. Coastal Commission chairman. Former state assemblyman. Appointed by Senate Rules Committee, Aug. 28, 1981. Reappointed December, 1986. Mary Lou Howard, 50 Democrat. Burbank councilwoman and former mayor. Civic and community affairs activist. Appointed by Senate Rules Committee, May 28, 1987, replacing Leo King. COASTAL COMMISSIONERS: THE VOTING RECORD The Natural Resources Defense Council, a national environmental group, tracked votes by Coastal Commissioners on 44 projects in 1986, then rated each commissioner according to the percentage of votes that the organization considered environmentally responsible. A perfect environmental rating under its system is 100%.
Commissioner Steve MacEl-vaine, a Republican appointee of Gov. George Deukmejian, conducted a similar study, but evaluated 26 votes cast during a six-month period.
While the results varied somewhat, the two studies showed similar trends.
In each study, the commission divided generally into three groups.
Democrats who tended to share the values of the NRDC
Commissioners NRDC Index MacElvaine Index Robert Franco 83% 70% Charles Warren 82% 72% Duane Garrett 81% 75% Michael Wornum 68% 53%
A middle group that frequently provided the one or two "swing votes" required to pass or defeat a controversial project
Commissioners NRDC Index MacElvaine Index Mark Nathanson 33% 29% David Malcolm 30% 29% Gilbert Contreras 27% 32% (replaced in 1987) Leo King 24% 24% (replaced in 1987)
Deukmejian appointees who favored fewer constraints on coastal development
Commissioners NRDC Index MacElvaine Index Dorrill Wright 18% 16% Steve MacElvaine 18% 19% Donald McInnis 12% 17% Tom McMurray 10% 11%