California

Taking in California’s majestic coast from Oregon to Mexico

A cypress tree along the California coast in Monterey
The California Coastal Commission is in charge of protecting 1,100 miles of shoreline, where land meets the Pacific.
(Mariah Tauger/For The Times)

Summer arrives on Monday. Time for a road trip. 

When Chuck Berry and the Stones implored us to “take that California trip”  they were singing about Route 66.

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FOR THE RECORD

June 18, 7:28 p.m.: An earlier version of this column incorrectly stated the first day of summer as Wednesday. 

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But every Californian knows that the truly iconic West Coast route meanders along California 1, 1,100 miles from the Oregon border to Mexico.

 Before fall arrives, I plan to take that drive. With you riding shotgun.

Why? 

Because of all the songs about our coast and movies that have featured it and because it’s as stunning a scenic stretch as the world has to offer. 

And because it’s at risk and I want to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the California Coastal Act that was meant to protect this precious resource—while keeping heat on the increasingly suspect California Coastal Commission, whose sacred mission is to make sure that act is well-enforced. 

In 1972, voters were worried sick about overdevelopment and the loss of public access to their beaches and rocky coves. So they went to the polls and approved Proposition 20. That created the Coastal Commission, which led four years later to the Coastal Act – an elegant manifesto that lays down  the law on coastal development and preservation.

On my travels, I’m going to revisit the Coastal Commission’s great successes, lost causes and pending battles.

I’m going to meet with people who collected signatures for Proposition 20 all those many years ago, and with people who volunteer as coastal  stewards and tour guides.

 As I’ve already admitted, my love affair with the coast began when I was a kid living in the East Bay. My dad dropped pocket change into a cigar box at the end of each day to  save for annual weeklong vacations to Santa Cruz and the Monterey Peninsula,and I couldn’t wait to get there.

 A walk on  a beach was a spiritual experience. Seashells, driftwood, seabirds and breaking surf were amazements.

If you’ve got a story about your own love affair with the California coast, drop me a line and maybe we can meet up while I’m on the road. I’d like to hear about your traditions, your explorations and  your concerns about what’s in store for the coast.

I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter – @LATstevelopez -- and tweet about our shared journey using the hashtag #Saveyourcoast, because it often seems that our leaders have been stuck in their offices for so long that they can’t remember the smell of salt air or the percussion of crashing waves. 

So much has already been lost.

We have long stretches where a coastal drive gives you a view of nothing but the backs of houses or hotels that should never have been allowed to litter the coast.

We have conflicts of interest, and powerful agents for developers who are dangerously chummy with commissioners.  We have ethics investigations underway. We have private, unreported meetings between commissioners and  developers. We have a commission often at odds with its own staff of experts when those staffers raise concerns about the negative effects of proposed developments.

The stench is so bad, several  legislative reforms are in the works.

The stench is so bad, several  legislative reforms are in the works. And yet we have a governor who must be fine with things as they are, judging by his silence.

Does he even care that the commission seems incapable of getting through a monthly hearing without a new embarrassment?

At the hearing in Santa Barbara two weeks ago, the commission spared itself one embarrassment only because commission Chairman Steve Kinsey finally announced he would recuse himself from voting on the controversial Newport Banning Ranch mega-development after Times stories about his failure to report two private meetings with developers. 

But then Commissioner Wendy Mitchell stepped up and made a bizarro speech in which she again ripped into former Executive Director Charles Lester. He’s the guy Mitchell and six other commissioners voted to fire in February, despite Lester’s strong defense of the coastal act and a job performance admired by just about everyone but the commissioners who dumped him.

Lester is on something of a hero’s tour of the coast he fought for, with one environmental group after another honoring him for his decades of work.

Mitchell’s beef?

Lester got bumped into a lower position when commissioners dumped him from the top spot, and Mitchell thinks that in his new role, Lester ought to keep his mouth shut.

And she didn’t like Lester saying he thinks private communications between commissioners and permit applicants have no place in a quasi-judicial process.

I’d rather see Mitchell—a Jerry Brown appointee--focus on the fact that the staff has no permanent leader, thanks to Lester’s dismissal. It’s going to be difficult to find one, too, given the relatively paltry salary offered, the fact that the job requires wading deep into a political cesspool, and the myriad problems presented by an overworked, underpaid staff in an agency the governor clearly does not value enough to adequately support.

...the job requires wading deep into a political cesspool

The budget problem is bad enough that some of the commission’s staff members were told not to attend the Santa Barbara hearing so the agency could save money.

And yet Commissioner Martha McClure, whose hotel room was paid for by taxpayers, skipped the first day of hearings and was seen hanging around the hotel — across the street from the beach — as if she were already on summer vacation.

It’s possible McClure — a Brown appointee — was upset about having lost her bid for reelection to the Del Norte County  Board of Supervisors the previous night. Her vote to dump Lester was seen by some residents of  Del Norte County as a betrayal, and they turned out against her.

She has not responded to multiple telephone and text messages from me, which leads me to wonder if she used up all her cuss words. . .

Because she lost, McClure will have to leave the Coastal Commission early next year,  and Brown will have to replace her. Will he go with a developer-friendly candidate, an administration stooge, an uncompromising protector of the coast or some kind of hybrid?

As for McClure’s mysterious absence from Wednesday’s hearing, multiple sources tell me she had testy exchanges in the hotel bar area with a patron and a hotel employee and was asked to leave.

She has not responded to multiple telephone and text messages from me, which leads me to wonder if she used up all her cuss words the last time we talked and is busy looking up new ones. 

Maybe I’ll drop in on her when I begin my travels.