- Associated Press - Friday, February 5, 2016

LOS ANGELES (AP) - The top executive at the powerful California Coastal Commission defended his record on the job Friday as he faced an effort to oust him, a potential shake-up that environmentalists fear could unleash runaway development on the state’s fabled coastline.

In his first public remarks on a proposal to dismiss him next week, Executive Director Charles Lester said in a statement that his accomplishments over more than four years have been “exceptionally strong.” He depicted himself as an able steward of the coast who, in concert with the commission, had made strides addressing the impacts of sea-level rise tied to climate change, protecting open space and winning additional funding.

“I believe that my vision has been clear and incisive,” Lester said in a memo posted on the panel’s website. “We have accomplished much together that we should be extremely proud of.”

The commission, created by voters in 1972, has broad sway over issues in coastal areas that include some of the most coveted real estate in the U.S. The turmoil surrounding Lester has raised questions about the direction of an agency often caught in the conflict between property rights and conservation along beaches and the adjacent coast.

Commission Chair Steve Kinsey notified Lester in a letter last month that the commission will consider whether to fire him at a meeting Wednesday.

Lester has held the post since 2011, and no reason was given for the proposed dismissal.

However, environmental activists suspect some commission members want to push out Lester to make way for management more welcoming to development.

The move to replace Lester comes in the midst of a long-running review of a proposed development of nearly 1,400 homes, a resort and retail space known as Banning Ranch in the Newport Beach area. Companies involved in the project include real estate firm Brooks Street, Cherokee Investment Partners and Aera Energy, which is jointly owned by affiliates of Royal Dutch Shell PLC and Exxon Mobil Corp.

Lester said that during his time as top executive, the agency has compiled a legacy of “rigorous but balanced” decisions and expanded citizen involvement. He wrote that he wants to improve communication between the staff and the commission and broaden diversity among staff.

A majority vote of the 12-member commission is required to approve a motion for Lester’s ouster. In a tie, the motion would fail.

The commission has received thousands of emails and letters on the proposal, virtually all of them supporting Lester. His salary is about $130,000 annually.

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