Head of Coastal Commission May Lose Job : Environment: Some link review of Peter Douglas’ status to his opposition to Disney proposal for Long Beach amusement park. Others say his management style is at issue.


Peter Douglas, the strong-willed veteran executive officer of the California Coastal Commission, may be in danger of losing his job.

Thomas Gwyn, chairman of the powerful coastal protection panel, said Douglas’ status will be reviewed at the commission’s July 19 meeting at Huntington Beach City Hall. Gwyn, who said he was acting at the urging of several commissioners, maintained that the move was fueled by Douglas’ management style rather than disputes over commission policy.

“This is not routine,” Gwyn said. “It would be scary if I were him.”

Douglas said Wednesday he intends to fight for his $70,000-a-year job, which he has held for six years.

“There’s a presence behind me--a force--and I hope it turns out to be a good one. . . . Nobody likes to lose a job they do well,” Douglas said in Long Beach where he was attending an international coastal zone conference.


Some sources called the attempt to fire Douglas a last-gasp maneuver by lame-duck commissioners to fire Douglas before they themselves are replaced.

Others pointed to Douglas’ unbending opposition to legislation making it easier for the Disney Co. to build a controversial $3-billion theme park at Long Beach harbor.

The Disney bill, by Sen. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), was shelved until next year amid stiff opposition from environmental groups. It would help clear the way for Disney to fill in up to 250 acres of the Long Beach shoreline for its proposed theme resort and amusement park.

The commission had come out against the Maddy measure, but dropped its opposition under heavy lobbying by Disney officials. A Disney executive said the firm has had no involvement in the decision to review Douglas’ performance.

However, Coastal Commission member Gary Giacomini, a Douglas supporter, said the move is “transparently connected to the fact that Peter has been opposed to filling the ocean for an amusement park.”

Giacomini said the push to oust Douglas is being spearheaded by David Malcolm, a Chula Vista city councilman who was upset by Douglas’ opposition to the bill. Malcolm, who was appointed to the commission by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), could not be reached for comment.

Douglas said he had no reason to believe that his position on the Disney proposal is a factor in his performance evaluation.

Gwyn, the commission chairman and a Brown appointee, said some commissioners pointed to repeated budget cutbacks by former Gov. George Deukmejian and questioned whether the commission could have done better if Douglas had better relations with the governor’s office.

Others, Gwyn said, were bothered by the appearance that Douglas was speaking for the entire 12-member commission when he issued policy pronouncements.

In reply, Douglas said: “I feel I have very carefully and vigorously represented the commission programs and the interests of the coastal act.

“What I do in Sacramento, I believe, represents the majority position on the commission. But when you have so many divisive bosses it’s hard to figure out who speaks for the commission. . . . It’s a situation of you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.”

Word of the attempt to remove Douglas provoked outrage from environmentalists.

Bob Sulnick, executive director of the American Oceans Campaign, noted that the terms of several commissioners who have long been at odds with Douglas have expired and decisions on their reappointments or replacements are pending.

“I think this is a very frightening kind of precedent that a lame-duck commission . . . would have the opportunity to remove a dedicated public servant . . . I see it as an attempt by development interests to really take over the Coastal Commission,” Sulnick said.

Giacomini suggested that Malcolm is trying to take advantage of a period when the commission--roughly divided between environmentalists and pro-development interests--may be without some Douglas supporters.

He noted that Brown has indicated he plans to remove appointee Robert Franco, mayor of Del Rey Oaks, and that another Douglas supporter, former Burbank City Councilwoman Mary Lou Howard, is no longer on the commission because she lost her council seat. The Senate Rules Committee is considering replacing Howard before next week’s showdown over Douglas.

Gov. Pete Wilson has yet to replace any of Deukmejian’s appointees. Giacomini predicted that Wilson will make pro-environmentalist appointments who “won’t stand for this” move against Douglas.

Douglas P. Wheeler, secretary of the resources agency, said the Wilson Administration has not worked closely enough with Douglas to form a position about his job performance. But, he said, “We believe the governor’s appointments to the commission ought to be involved in making decisions about staff.” Wheeler said action on new appointments would come after the state budget problems are resolved.

Stammer reported from Los Angeles and Gladstone from Sacramento