Column: Gov. Brown, notice anything fishy about your Coastal Commission?

California Gov. Jerry Brown answers a reporter's question concerning his revised 2016-17 state budget plan. Object preview Many years ago, Brown referred to coastal commissioners as “bureaucratic thugs.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown answers a reporter’s question concerning his revised 2016-17 state budget plan. Object preview Many years ago, Brown referred to coastal commissioners as “bureaucratic thugs.”
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

For months, I’ve been hearing the same question over and over from readers following the ongoing festival of the absurd at the California Coastal Commission.

Where in the name of the father, son and holy coast is Gov. Jerry Brown, and why doesn’t he say or do something?

Good question.

Brown’s Coastal Commission is thrashing about, and lawmakers have rushed to the rescue with several reform bills.


But the governor is quieter than a California field mouse.

Let’s go back to February, when Brown’s four appointees to the commission voted along with others to guillotine Executive Director Charles Lester, despite objections from hundreds of public officials and environmental stewards.

It was a shocking, confidence-shaking moment for one of the nation’s most powerful regulatory agencies, whose simple and sacred duty is to protect 1,100 miles of coastal treasures.

But Brown had nothing to say.

I reached out to him again this week to talk about any one of umpteen swirling controversies involving the commission, but his staff, again, wasn’t able to squeeze me in.

You know what I think?

I’m just guessing, but Brown must be fine with a trend in which several commissioners, including his appointees, often seem as if they’re placing development lobby interests over the public interest, even if that means aggressively challenging the recommendations of their own expert staff.

“I assume that he knows what’s going on, and that he’s OK with it,” said Commissioner Mary Shallenberger, one of eight commissioners who do not serve at Brown’s pleasure. “Otherwise he would weigh in.”

Brown, who many years ago referred to coastal commissioners as “bureaucratic thugs,” may believe that too much interference awaits those who want to slap another hotel on the coast or add a cabana onto a beach compound, or build five humongous mansions on a Malibu hillside (like U2 guitarist David “the Edge” Evans).


And I think that his appointees to the commission and his top administrative deputies are doing exactly what they think the boss wants them to do.

Well, if you’re going to err on the side of development, that’s one thing. I’d have thought Brown would have insisted on higher standards of decorum and integrity.

My Sunday column focused on Commissioner Martha McClure, a Brown appointee. I called to ask if it was true that she stayed at the Tuscan-style Malibu villa of a heavyweight coastal development consultant.

Sure, she said, and she saw nothing wrong with it. But she took issue with me, and let loose an impressive stream of unprintables -- explaining in a Northern California newspaper Tuesday that if she cussed me out like a sailor, it was because she was raised by a logger. (I think I’m starting to like her.)

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McClure also told me about a call she got from someone in the governor’s office asking if she was “OK” amid the storm of criticism that followed her vote to dump Lester. That was considerate, though to my knowledge no one on the governor’s staff called to console commissioners who wanted Lester to continue his fierce defense of the Coastal Act.


Actually, I like the idea of the governor or his staff asking the commissioners questions, and I can think of a few.

Ask Commissioner Greg Cox about that $3,000 conflict-of-interest fine he paid for voting on a Sea World permit when his wife owned stock in the company.

Ask Commissioners McClure and Erik Howell (another Brown appointee) about the ethics investigations into their receipt of campaign donations from the domestic and business partner of the state’s most influential coastal development lobbyist.

And speaking of potty-mouthed commissioners, the governor might ask Mark Vargas why he recently F-bombed attendees at a hearing.

Vargas, by the way, is the guy who hobnobbed at an Ireland concert last year with U2’s Evans just before voting on the musician’s cluster of habitat-crushing Malibu monstrosities.

Commissioner Wendy Mitchell, who owns a consulting business, was recommended to the commission by her buddy Susan McCabe, the most prolific consultant in the coastal application business.


Anybody in the governor’s office see anything wrong with that?

Or with the fact that Mitchell voted last year on a Santa Barbara project that involved one of her clients, or that she posted a photo of herself and the U2 guitarist on Facebook, along with an apology for how long it took the commission to let him massacre the mountain.

Finally, maybe the governor could ask commission Chairman Steve Kinsey why he failed to report, as required, two visits in the last several months with developers at the site of the controversial Newport Banning Ranch development, a project for which Kinsey challenged the staff’s science on the anticipated damage to an environmentally sensitive habitat.

It’s no wonder that state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson has introduced a bill banning so-called ex-parte communications, the private sessions between commissioners and interested parties.

To be fair, on any given day, maybe half the commissioners do a difficult job extremely well.

But it’s no wonder readers keep writing me to ask what they can do about the others.

You can go to the monthly Coastal Commission meetings and speak your mind. But be forewarned. Some commissioners have been known to privately trash environmentalists and others who dare to hold them accountable.

You can also Tweet about this fiasco using #Saveyourcoast -- and make sure to include @JerryBrownGov and let him know the commission needs a house cleaning.

And maybe throw in @Rendon63rd, for state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, and @kdeleon, for Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, each of whom controls four commission appointments. They don’t have the authority, as does Brown, to fire commissioners, but they can certainly light fires if they so choose.


Or you can call the governor’s office at (916) 445-2841, and remind him that the Coastal Act took effect during his first term as governor, in 1976.

Our coastal zone, says the elegantly conceived document, “is a distinct and valuable natural resource of vital and enduring interest to all the people and exists as a delicately balanced ecosystem.”

It states that “the permanent protection of the state’s natural and scenic resources is a paramount concern to present and future residents of the state and nation.”

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And the world.


Have you had a sunset stroll along the beach in San Clemente lately?

Have you rumbled past Rincon on the Surfliner or hiked the cliff-hanging trails of Bodega Head?

You’re going to hear German and Farsi and Swahili.

The world has its eyes on our coast.

Does our governor?




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