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Legislator seeks to revise bill that would ban behind-the-scenes communications at the Coastal Commission

A scenic view looking down the coast at Bodega Head, Calif.
A scenic view looking down the coast at Bodega Head, Calif.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The author of a bill to ban behind-the-scenes communications at the California Coastal Commission said Thursday that she will seek to revise amendments an Assembly committee recently made to moderate the reform measure.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said she wants to “revise, perfect and clarify” changes in SB 1190, her bill to stop coastal commissioners from having private, so-called ex-parte communications with developers, lobbyists, environmentalists or anyone else interested in the land use agency’s business.

Her legislation also would prevent commissioners from trying to influence reports and recommendations by staff members, who are supposed to do their job free of political influence.

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“I want to stay focused on the purpose of the bill: To provide transparency, to restore confidence in the commission and level the playing field for all Californians,” said Jackson, who has until the end of the legislative session Aug. 31 to revise the measure and get it through the Assembly.

Ex-partes are private communications between a commissioner and an interested party that could influence a decision.

They can involve telephone calls, face-to-face meetings, emails or other written materials — communications that must be publicly disclosed to the agency within days of their occurrence.

Jackson’s bill emerged Thursday from the Assembly Appropriations Committee, which finalized the language of several amendments that were announced late last week.

The senator said she is optimistic that ongoing negotiations in the Assembly will improve the legislation and address concerns that the committee’s proposed changes might not provide a complete ban.

One amendment would let commissioners and staff visit project sites of developers and permit applicants if the visit is allowed by the property owner and approved by a majority of the commission.

In addition, the ban would not apply to commissioners who are also elected officials and were acting in that capacity while communicating about a matter before it came to the commission.

Another amendment would require the commission to provide telephone and video access to its public meetings so that members of the public could testify about a matter. The idea is potentially costly for the agency.

The Appropriations Committee further recommended that the commission adopt a policy preventing commissioners from unduly influencing the staff and to include general comments from interested parties such as labor unions, environmentalists and business groups, in staff reports related to commission business.

Ex-parte communications became controversial in February when commissioners fired Charles Lester, the agency’s executive director, with little public explanation.

A review of ex-parte disclosure forms by The Times later found that some commissioners filed late reports or, in a few cases, completely failed to disclose their communications, a potential violation of state law.

Other disclosure forms did not contain dates, signatures or detailed accounts of the communications as required, and the majority of ex-partes involved developers or their representatives.

Dan.Weikel@latimes.com


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