"Legislators Seek to Save Coastal Panel," Jan. 1: The appellate court ruling striking down the Coastal Act gives the Legislature a much-needed opportunity to revisit the appointment process for the state Coastal Commission. There's no doubt that the overall goals of the commission -- safeguarding California's coastline from overdevelopment and ensuring public access -- are still popular among Californians, but a more independent and locally accountable commission would better achieve these goals.
In addition to repairing the constitutional deficiencies of the current appointment process through increasing the number of appointments by the governor, the Legislature should also consider delegating its current appointment power to coastal cities and/or counties. In addition to balancing the governor's statewide appointments, these local appointees would better represent the interests of -- and make the commission more accountable to -- local coastal communities.
While on the surface the decision that the method of appointing members of the Coastal Commission violates the state Constitution favors developers and the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation, in the end it may boomerang on them. The ultimate result may make the plaintiffs wish they had never brought the lawsuit. That the members of the commission could be removed at will by those who appointed them has benefited developers immensely. Powerful lobbyists acting on behalf of their wealthy clients all too often were able to wield their influence in Sacramento to change the membership of the commission to favor their projects.
If the Coastal Act is amended to provide for fixed appointments, that will help environmentalists. On the other hand, giving commissioners more independence would give lobbyists more opportunity to influence commissioners individually, since they would no longer be subject to the control of those who appointed them. Overall, giving commissioners more independence would appear to be the lesser of two evils.