Elected officials in Sacramento and Los Angeles are urging Gov. Jerry Brown to weigh in on the fate of the embattled executive director of the California Coastal Commission, saying that his dismissal would jeopardize pending environmental protection efforts.
A letter sent to Brown by 16 Democratic legislators on Tuesday warned that an attempt to fire Charles Lester, the commission’s executive director, would be “disruptive to achieving the state’s coastal protection and management goals.”
Lester, who has led the politically appointed panel since 2011, was notified last month that the commission was considering his removal. He then asked for the issue to be resolved in a public hearing, now scheduled for the commission’s meeting next Wednesday in Morro Bay.
Supporters of Lester have charged that pro-development groups are pushing to remove him, while others have insisted the effort may be more about his ability to run the quasi-independent agency.
Praise for Lester’s work leading the commission also came on Tuesday from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, which unanimously approved a resolution warning that an attempt to remove him “would undermine the stability of the commission, while simultaneously further compromising its ability to effectively carry out its mission.”
In response to the letter from legislators, Brown spokesman Evan Westrup reiterated that “this is a personnel matter -- initiated without any involvement from our office -- for the Coastal Commission to decide.”
The commission is made up of 12 voting members, four of whom are appointed by the governor. The remaining commissioners are selected by leaders of the state Senate and Assembly.
Brown has no formal role in commission matters, though even the panel’s website notes that gubernatorial appointees “serve at the pleasure of the governor.”
The letter sent to Brown was written by Democrats largely from coastal parts of California, led by state Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara and Ben Allen of Santa Monica.
“We strongly support the value of an independent Coastal Commission staff,” wrote the legislators, “and we respect the commitment and the accomplishments of Dr. Lester during his tenure as executive director.”
On Monday, almost three dozen former commissioners also weighed in to support Lester. And since the dispute became public, the commission has received thousands of letters. The move to oust the commission director was first considered during a closed-session meeting in December.
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