Controversy swirled around the California Coastal Commission (CCC) this week as the February meeting agenda was released, revealing a move by commissioners to oust Executive Director Charles Lester, who has led CCC staff since 2011. 

Should Lester’s firing receive the requisite votes at the February meeting, which will be held in Morro Bay, Calif., from Feb. 10-12, an interim executive director will be likely appointed at that time — if not a new permanent executive director. Seven votes will be needed if all 12 commissioners attend the meeting, or six if 11 commissioners are in attendance.

“Pursuant to Government Code § 11126(a), after the conclusion of the public hearing, the Commission may deliberate regarding this item in closed session,” reads the February agenda, published Jan. 22. “If the Commission takes any action during closed session to dismiss the Executive Director, the roll call vote will be reported publicly when the Commission reconvenes in open session.” Lester has evidently invoked his right to a public hearing over his employment status, which would appear to mean he and his supporters intend to make a stand in defense of the executive director.

Emails obtained by The Malibu Times show members of California’s environmental community rallying support for Lester, who is considered a steadfast advocate for environmentalism against the encroachment of coastal development. To others, this is a power struggle between outside interest groups and the commission itself.

“It is very important we get hundreds of people to show up [to the meeting], and not everyone can afford to make the trip so a bus will really help,” wrote Una Glass, Vice Mayor of Sebastopol, Calif., and executive director of Coastwalk California, in an email.

According to knowledgeable sources, it is likely that Lester’s ouster would not appear on the February agenda if Commissioners did not feel confident that they had the minimum votes to fire the executive director. As for which Commissioners are involved in the attempted ouster, fingers are pointing in all directions.

A voting chart also obtained by The Malibu Times and prepared by a branch of the Surfrider Foundation, together with WILDCOAST and Environment California, shows 2015 voting broken down into “anti-conservation” and “pro-conservation” ballots cast. 

Edits to the chart were made by an unknown person pointing to five commissioners who allegedly wish to oust Lester — four of whom were appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. These are: Commissioners Erik Howell, Mark Vargas, Effie Turnbull-Sanders, Wendy Mitchell and Martha McClure, each of whom have cast fewer than 50 percent “pro-conservation” votes in 2015, according to Surfrider.

Sara Wan, a local conservationist and former Coastal Commissioner, sent an email that was obtained by The Malibu Times, suggesting the deeper issue is that of Brown “attempting to undermine the Commission’s independence and turn[ing] it over to the energy and development interests.” 

Wan also included a threat to those whom she pegged as leading the charge against Lester (Commissioners McClure and Howell, but also Gregory Cox, Roberto Uranga and Chair Steve Kinsey); namely, that they “will pay the price next time they are up for election if they support the firing.”

On the heels of the publishing of the February agenda, powerful environmental advocacy group the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit against the Commission, alleging wrongdoing over the approval of the controversial “Edge” project — the construction of five homes on a blufftop in Malibu by U2 rocker David “The Edge” Evans and his business associates.

The Sweetwater Mesa project was approved by the commission in a unanimous vote in December 2015, against the wishes of environmental groups such as the Sierra Club. 

The suit was filed in L.A. County Superior Court on Thursday, Jan. 21.

(2) comments

Douglas Deitch

The California Coastal Commission should replace Dr. Lester ...

Comment on California Coastal Commission's ED Charles Lester's Dismissal Public Hearing, February 10, 2016

-------- Forwarded Message --------
Subject: Consideration of Dismissal of the Executive Director, Agenda Item W8-10, February 10, 2016 Coastal Commission Meeting
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 2016 16:20:22 -0800
From: Douglas Deitch
To:,,,,, Ddeitch

Subject: Consideration of Dismissal of the Executive Director, Agenda Item W8-10, February 10, 2016 Coastal Commission Meeting-Comment from Douglas Deitch, Executive Director-Monterey Bay Conservancy, Santa Cruz, California ... a 501c3 Monterey Bay Water Policy Thinktank since 1996

Date: Sun, 31 Jan 2016 04:18:23 -0800
From: Douglas Deitch
To: California Coastal Commission, Governor Brown , Mark Cowin/DWR , Natural Resources Secretary John Laird

In re: Dr. Charles Lester's Job performance, results, and retention as ED ...

Dear California Coastal Commission et al,

Query: In the Monterey Bay, is there any coastal resource more critical and necessary to every aspect of our lives, survival, prosperity, and "sustainability" on the coast than our tragically and now permanently salt water intruded and decades long massively "Big Ag" defiled and mined out coastal ground water commons?

It's a real simple decision, California Coastal Commission ...

"The mission of the Coastal Commission (CCC) is to: Protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations."

Instead of this, here's what Dr. Lester did and told us in 2009 he erroneously believes and understands the "mission" and "mandate" of the CCC to be ...


... in response to my numerous pleas (eg. please see: 2009: ,
, and , , , ) from 2007 through 2011 to the CCC and Dr. Lester, CCC and Coastal Conservancy staff, and supervisor/CCC commissar Mark Stone, in particular,

... to please recognize and enforce our 1987 Gary Patton "Well Ordinance and Local Coastal Plan" which, unique in the State of California, by law ( ,, forbade/forbides ANY overdrafting/water mining of our Santa Cruz County aquifers.

The CCC, Dr. Lester, and the late Dr. Douglas refused in 2009 and any time thereafter to this moment ... and here's what we here in Santa Cruz and the entire Monterey Bay ended up with instead, as I testified we would in 2010 ...

... The entire CCC was "complicit in the greatest environmental catastrophe (ie the tragic and permanent decimation and waste of our local coastal Monterey Bay ground water commons) in the history of the Monterey Bay"
... ( @ 3:35 , )

... ending up this month, officially, Folks, as the most tragically overdrafted and mismanaged ground water commons in the once Golden State:

Res ipsa loquitur.

Respectfully and regretfully submitted,
Douglas Deitch
Executive Director, Monterey Bay Conservancy
501 Mission Street, #1
Santa Cruz, California, 95060

ps/btw ... I have noticed an op-ed in a number of papers, LA Times, etc., by Mr. Steven Blank, former CCC commissioner 2007-2013, lauding Dr. Lester's performance and advocating his retention. Maybe if Mr. Blank had been paying a little closer attention and respect (, along with Commissioner/SC supervisor Mr. Mark Stone, ESQ., in particular) during his CCC tenure, he might have a far different view of Dr. Lester's performance AND the Monterey Bay's ground water commons (along with the rest of our invaluable though now critically threatened and failing natural coastal resources and systems) and Dr. Lester's and his own tragic failure to protect, steward, and sustainably conserve them?

ps/btw II: Gary Patton FB post 3/2015: ...

ps/btw III: My 2009 Santa Cruz Metro Op-Ed on our undeclared by our Santa Cruz Board of Supervisors' ground water emergency ... :

Thomas Smith

You had me at "Energy and Development" interests. While I don't know if this is implicitly true or implicitly fabricated, ALL I can think of in the final analysis is Flint, Michigan.

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