SACRAMENTO (CN) – Seeking to restore faith in the beleaguered California Coastal Commission, which fired its director last week in a secret vote, lawmakers introduced legislation Tuesday aimed at closing lobbying loopholes.
After the commission’s 7-5 vote to oust its director Charles Lester, environmentalists and lawmakers denounced the powerful commission’s decision and accused it of kowtowing to developers who want to build on the state’s majestic coastline.
Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins’ bill would require paid consultants attempting to influence commissioners’ decisions to register with the state as lobbyists and reveal their clients.
In a Capitol press conference, Atkins, D-San Diego, said the commission’s closed-door vote to fire Lester was “murky,” and Assembly Bill 2002 will increase transparency.
“There is a loophole in current law that says so-called ‘consultants’ whose job is to influence members of the Coastal Commission don’t have to register and disclose spending the way other lobbyists do. The existing loophole gives these lobbyists an edge with commissioners when they are pushing development projects along our coast,” Atkins said in a statement.
Shortly after last week’s vote , Atkins blasted her commission appointees in a tweet, saying she “thought my appointees would be better stewards of the coast.”
The 12-member commission consists of four appointees each from the governor, Assembly and Senate.
Lobbyists today can petition commission members without registering with the Secretary of State. The bill would amend the Political Reform Act of 1974 and force commission lobbyists to disclose their pay and clients.
Though Lester received unanimous support from public speakers at last week’s commission meeting in Morro Bay, the commission fired him anyway. Commissioners cited communication issues and accused the media of ginning up a “conspiracy” alleging that members were influenced by lobbyists for the construction industry.
Steve Jones, oceans communications specialist for the Center for Biological Diversity, told Courthouse News that while AB 2002 is a good start, more must be done to restore trust in the embattled commission.
“The vote was pro-development interests launching an attack on [commission] staff,” Jones said.
Jones said it’s time for Gov. Jerry Brown to weigh in on the issue, as his appointees voted to fire Lester. Commissioners Wendy Mitchell and Erik Howell, who serve on Brown’s behalf, did not comment during the hearing but voted to fire the popular director.
“Jerry Brown and his appointees need to level with the public, and they haven’t done that yet,” Jones said.
Brown’s office declined to comment before and after the commission’s vote.
While commissioners accused the media of bashing the agency’s reputation during the public hearing, Jones said they are the ones responsible for eroding public trust in the coastline regulator.
“They’re the ones who sabotaged public faith within the commission; they’re the ones who need to restore it. If they’re not willing to do it, we need to put pressure on Jerry Brown to remove some of these commissioners,” Jones said.
As the commission searches for its next director, critics are demanding a transparent, nationwide search for Lester’s permanent replacement.
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