- Associated Press - Friday, February 10, 2017

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) - The California Coastal Commission, which abruptly fired its executive director last year without explanation, chose his successor on Friday.

The panel voted 11-0 to appoint Jack Ainsworth to head the agency’s 160 staff members. He’d been interim director since March.

More than 1,000 people were contacted during the search for a new executive director, according to a commission statement. The finalists were interviewed Friday.

“While all the candidates were extremely well-qualified, Jack’s depth of understanding of coastal issues, the challenges confronting this agency and his steady leadership over the last year thoroughly impressed us,” Chair Dayna Bochco said in a statement.

Ainsworth, 59, has been with the commission for nearly three decades. He was a senior deputy director before being named interim executive director.

“I want the people of California to know that I will do my best every day to protect the coast for everyone,” Ainsworth said in a statement.

The 12-member Coastal Commission has broad sway over environmental protection, development and the use of marine resources along California’s 1,100 miles of coastline, which includes some of the most coveted real estate in the United States.

A year ago, the commissioners ousted former Executive Director Charles Lester in a closed-door vote. That decision sparked protests by environmental activists who charged that some commissioners wanted a more development-friendly director.

Commissioners called that claim groundless.

At a later hearing, one commissioner said she had lost confidence in Lester because he “dodged questions and failed to communicate.”

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