California Coastal Commission chairman admitted to ICU for COVID-19; agency staff self-isolating

Steve Padilla, chairman of the California Coastal Commission, in 2017.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The chairman of the California Coastal Commission, who recently tested positive for COVID-19, has been admitted to an intensive care unit, according to his family and staff.

At least one other person who attended the coastal commission meeting last week has since tested positive for COVID-19 and is currently isolated. All commissioners and commission staff are now self-isolating and monitoring their health for signs of illness.

“After experiencing worsening symptoms, Steve Padilla was admitted to UCSD Thornton Hospital ICU where he is receiving additional treatment, including a respirator to aid with difficulty breathing associated with COVID-19,” his daughter, Ashleigh Padilla, wrote in a statement late Thursday.

“I know his amazing doctors and nurses are doing everything they can to send him home healthy when this is all over.”


Padilla had left last week’s coastal commission meeting in Santa Cruz after developing sudden symptoms. He said late Saturday that he had tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, and was doing well back home and recovering.

“This is a scary time. My symptoms — fever, body aches, headaches, chills — came on very rapidly,” Padilla, who also serves on the Chula Vista City Council, told his community over the weekend.

“My main concern now is for the well-being of others. My friends and family have been informed and are taking the necessary steps — but it’s my duty to be transparent for the entire community. I must be mindful of all I’ve come in contact with in my service as your Councilman and Coastal Commissioner.”

When asked where he thought he may have caught the virus, he said the only thing he could think of was that he had passed through the international airport in San Jose, where a number of TSA agents had tested positive.

The coastal commission, the regulatory body tasked with managing development along the state’s 1,200-mile coastline, meets every month for three days in cities up and down the state.

Attendance was lighter than usual at the meeting on March 11, 12 and 13 at the Hilton Santa Cruz Hotel, in Scotts Valley, as heightened anxiety over COVID-19 rippled across the state. Still, dozens had shown up to express their concerns about desalination and water treatment infrastructure on the coast, beach parking fees and curfews at Cowell and Main beaches in Santa Cruz.

Many issues on the agenda had been postponed or canceled, and you could almost feel the room jump whenever someone coughed. Lawyers, lobbyists, environmentalists and coastal officials elbow-bumped each other instead of shaking hands, and everyone laughed — but was also relieved — to see commission staff run to the microphone with Clorox wipes in between each person who stepped up to the lectern to give their three minutes of public comments.


A longtime coastal commissioner, Padilla was appointed to the 12-member board by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon. He was recently elected by fellow commissioners to lead the statewide panel.

Jack Ainsworth, the commission’s executive director, had informed the staff and the public that the commission was looking into ways to host its April meeting, scheduled to be held in Oxnard City Hall, online instead.

Other government agencies have also been scrambling to find online options for their regularly scheduled meetings.

In her statement, Padilla’s daughter urged community members to be careful and do their part in containing the pandemic:

“My father asked me to pass on a message: Everyone needs to take COVID-19 seriously. Please follow the advice of our public health professionals to reduce spread of the virus and take precautions to keep your families and our community safe.”