Coastal Commission Reform Dies in California

SACRAMENTO (CN) — State lawmakers Wednesday overwhelmingly nixed two Democratic reform bills inspired by this year’s controversial firing of the director of the California Coastal Commission, allegedly for refusing to buckle to developers.
     The proposals sought to increase public confidence by reining in commissioners’ private discussions on development and closing a lobbying loophole that allows paid consultants to petition commissioners without registering as lobbyists or revealing their clients.
     On the last day of the legislative session, the Senate clipped Assembly Bill 2002 without floor debate and minutes later the Assembly followed suit and stalled Senate Bill 1190 by 12-45 vote.
     A group of reform-minded lawmakers introduced the bills in the spring after the divisive decision by the commission to fire popular Executive Director Charles Lester. The firing sparked public outcry and Republicans and Democrats called for sweeping changes to the powerful Coastal Commission.
     Environmentalists claimed meetings between commissioners and developers who want to build on California’s majestic and well-protected coastline led to Lester’s dismissal.
     The firing spawned several bipartisan proposals that failed. One Republican proposal sought to transfer the commission’s authority over coastal development to local governments. Democrats hoped to shed light on lobbying through AB 2002 and SB 1190.
     Eight commission proposals were introduced, with just three making it out of their house of origin.
     While the transparency reforms, AB 2002 and SB 1190, squeaked by their houses of origin on party-line votes, the authors were unable to draw enough support before the Wednesday deadline, despite having support from the commission.
     In August, the Assembly Appropriations Committee gutted SB 1190 and added amendments allowing private ex parte communications, such as phone calls or face-to-face meetings, between commissioners and developers under softened guidelines.
     The bill’s author, state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said the committee added the amendments without her support and that they violated the purpose of the bill.
     Nonetheless, Jackson took the watered-down bill to the Assembly, where it was not well-received. Laughter rang through the Assembly chamber after Wednesday’s failed vote.
     Jackson’s office did not return a request for comment after hours Wednesday, but she is expected to revive the proposal next year.
     Opponents said the bills limited free speech and could prohibit useful dealings on development between residents and the state-appointed commissioners. They warned that homeowners and city officials may have to register with the state as lobbyists to discuss issues with commissioners under AB 2002.
     The commission is still reviewing candidates for Lester’s replacement and does not expect to have a replacement until early 2017. The commission did not respond to a request for comment on the votes after hours Wednesday.

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