Cover your ears: Coastal Commissioner Martha McClure’s on the phone
I have been called names so many times, I lost count long ago. I have been cussed out by the sharpest tongues in the East and the best in the West.
All part of the job.
But nothing compares — or even comes close — to the jet stream of undiluted profanity and invective showered upon me by Coastal Commissioner Martha McClure when I called her one evening last week.
As you may know, my colleagues and I have been peeking into dark corners and taking note of cozy relationships between commissioners, developers and their high-powered, politically juiced consultants.
In the last week alone, The Times has lanced commission Chairman Steve Kinsey for failing to report two visits with representatives of a controversial, habitat-crushing development proposed in Newport Beach.
Which leads me back to my question for McClure: Is it true that she has stayed at the Malibu winery villa of a consultant who has represented numerous clients, including David Evans of U2, whose projects are often under review by the commission?
Did you take LSD today?
— Martha McClure, coastal commissioner
The answer is yes, but it took a while to get to the details.
McClure had her own agenda in mind.
She called me a “chicken s—,” a slimebag and a hack.
“You’re farting out of your f— ass,” she said at one point.
Two of her favorite phrases seem to be, “Oh my f— God,” and, “Are you f— kidding me?”
There is not a sailor, living or dead, who can match her.
But why was McClure in such a lather?
She thought I was unfair to her in a March column, when I noted she had accepted a $500 donation in 2012 — for her reelection campaign as a Del Norte County supervisor — from the domestic partner of ever-ubiquitous development consultant Susan McCabe.
McClure told me in March that she thought the donor, Antoinette DeVargas, and McCabe were just friends.
But as McClure sees it, I should also have reported that she told me she wouldn’t take such a donation from DeVargas in the future, and that she got donations that year from lots of people who don’t live in Del Norte County, including current and former coastal commissioners.
To me, the relevant bit of news was the DeVargas donation, because McCabe has more projects in front of the commissioners than any other consultant. In fact, that $500 donation from DeVargas is now the subject of a state Fair Political Practices Commission investigation.
As is a $1,000 donation from DeVargas to Commissioner Erik Howell, for those keeping score at home.
“Did you take LSD today?” McClure asked, saying I was out of my mind if I was suggesting that a $500 donation to her could influence a vote.
In my humble opinion, commissioners have a huge responsibility as the stewards of our precious coast, and it seems to me they ought to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.
I asked McClure if she had given back the $500.
She said she had not, adding that her integrity was unimpeachable.
“Do you f— get it?” she asked. “I hope you put in your paper that I f— get it, and we don’t operate the same way up here as they do in L.A.”
The way McClure operated in L.A., it turns out, was to stay at the oceanview hillside home of Don Schmitz, a consultant who owns a Malibu winery and is a regular presence at Coastal Commission meetings.
“Stunning Tuscan style estate & vineyard located in the hills above Malibu,” says the Malibu Solstice Estate Vacation Rental page on Facebook. A listing on HomeAway.com puts the average nightly rental price at $888.
McClure told me she and her husband, who often travels to Coastal Commission meetings with her, stayed overnight at the Schmitz property only once, in 2011 or 2012, she couldn’t remember exactly.
To the best of her recollection, she and Schmitz might have been “having a tobacco” together after a commission meeting, and she was dreading getting into traffic to begin the long drive home to Crescent City.
“He and I kind of befriended each other,” McClure said of Schmitz, telling me they talked about the challenges of raising kids. “That was my conversation with him. It was nothing about anything else, and then he said, ‘Why don’t you come up to the house?’”
McClure said they went to Schmitz’s son’s high school football game together that night.
As Schmitz recalls it, the game ran late, McClure was exhausted, and that’s when he asked the McClures to spend the night. The home was not a vacation rental at the time, Schmitz said.
If McClure and Schmitz had any conversations about Coastal Commission business, she would have been required to file what’s known as an ex-parte report. But both of them insisted there was no shop talk, and both insisted there was nothing improper about the arrangement.
Former Chief Counsel Ralph Faust said the free lodging could arguably have been something McClure should have reported.
“It’s a gift, because there’s value,” Faust said. “Presumably she’s staying there rather than staying in a hotel or motel.”
He went on to say: “It’s a problem. It’s like having a drink with a lobbyist, except that it’s one step beyond that.”
In 2011, Schmitz was a consultant on the highly controversial proposal by U2 guitarist Evans — “The Edge” as he calls himself — to build a five-mansion compound on a ridge in Malibu. The Coastal Commission staff had recommended against what its top staffer at the time called “one of the three worst projects that I’ve seen in terms of environmental devastation.”
The project was ultimately scaled back and unanimously approved by commissioners last year. But in 2011, when it appeared the proposal would be defeated, Evans’ attorney temporarily withdrew the guitarist’s home from consideration, and Schmitz asked commissioners to delay a vote on the other four homes.
The vote against that motion was 11-1. Only McClure voted to delay.
The commissioners then voted, 8-4, to deny the project. McClure cast one of the four votes in favor of the development.
“All I know,” McClure said after calling me a hack several times, “is that I just try to do the right thing, and not only do the right thing, but do the right thing over and over again, and people like you want to make the right thing the wrong thing.”
I called her back the next day, but it wasn’t the same Martha. She apologized for lashing out and said she didn’t regret staying with Schmitz but that maybe she should have reported that she did.
She told me about changes she’d like to see at the Coastal Commission.
And she told me about a call she got from the governor’s office after she and Jerry Brown’s other appointees voted to fire Executive Director Charles Lester, a move blasted by those who thought Lester was the last best defense against more coastal development.
But I’ll have to save it for another time because someone’s #@W%# ing #%#$% language %$$^@ used up too much !^%*#@ing space.
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