Gov. Gray Davis on Thursday appointed California Resources Secretary Mary Nichols to the state Coastal Commission, angering another longtime Davis appointee whom he removed to make room on the powerful board that governs development along the state's 1,100-mile shoreline.
Nichols cannot be sworn in as a commissioner until she officially steps down as resources secretary on Nov. 14, the Friday before Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger takes office. Members of the Coastal Commission serve at the discretion of the governor, and Nichols said she has asked Schwarzenegger's transition team to allow her to remain on the panel.
Nichols said she wanted to take the unpaid position so she could protect the coast from the federal government's new push for offshore oil exploration, offshore liquid natural gas unloading terminals and other energy projects.
The Schwarzenegger transition team "asked me if I would be interested in doing something in the administration," Nichols said.
"I told them that this is the only thing I would be interested in. The response was generally favorable. But no promises were made."
H.D. Palmer, a Schwarzenegger spokesman, said the governor-elect and his team are busy sifting through thousands of applications for an array of government positions.
As for Nichols continuing on the Coastal Commission, he said, "No final decision has been made."
Davis' last-minute move was the latest in a flurry of appointments of his senior staff members to government and judicial posts in the waning days of his administration, which was cut short by last month's recall election.
Yet for him to install Nichols on the Coastal Commission -- even for a few days -- meant removing one of his other appointees.
In this case, that was Christina Desser, a San Francisco environmentalist who complained about being dropped from the panel after two decades of loyalty to Davis.
Desser said she was informed Thursday of her ouster by a secretary, who left a message on her telephone answering machine.
"I had no illusions that the Schwarzenegger administration would keep me on, but I was very surprised that Davis would treat me this way," Desser said.
"I've been more aggressive on environmental issues than he is, but I've always been loyal. I've supported him in every election. I've been a loyal supporter for 20 years."
Davis' spokesmen did not return phone calls from The Times on Thursday.
Mark Massara, who tracks Coastal Commission issues for the Sierra Club, called it a "classless move" to replace Desser with Nichols.
Are "Davis and his political cronies going to play politics with the commission to the bitter end?" Massara asked. "It's easy to appreciate why the voters have thrown these guys out of office."
Others rallied behind the Nichols appointment.
"I think she'll be terrific," said Joel Reynolds, an attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
"As secretary of resources, she was spectacular."
Nichols, who once worked with Reynolds at the council, said she is "under no illusions that the Coastal Commission would win me any popularity contests."