Editorial / Amnesia File

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(Feb. 2, 2016) -- Coastal protection advocates call the situation an emergency, alleging pro-development members of CA's non-elected Coastal Commission are engineering a coup to oust the Commission's current Executive Director. He has no vote or veto but oversees Coastal Commission staff whose recommendations Coastal Commissioners often follow but can modify or reject. What's taking place is, in effect, a battle for the soul of the CA Coastal Commission that controls the future of CA's coastline.

Coastal Commission staff has set up a special email address to let the public weigh in, pro and con, at this link. Among over 11,000 comments received thus far visible at this link is a letter signed by 35 former members of the CA Coastal Commission -- including Long Beach attorney Mel Nutter (a former Coastal Commission chair) -- and Congressman Alan Lowenthal (who as a LB Councilman was an alternate to a Coastal Commission member.) They urge the Commission not to oust its current Executive Director.

[Scroll down for further.]

On Feb. 10 at 10 a.m., the Coastal Commission will hold a public hearing on the matter -- in Morro Bay. The agenda item will apply special hearing procedures described here. After hearing from the Executive Director, elected officials, federal/state/local agency representatives, organized groups and individual members of the public, the Commission will deliberate, possibly in closed session, after which there'll be a public announcement of the Commission's action by roll call, followed by individual Commissioner comments. plans to carry live video of the Coastal Commission proceedings on our front page on Feb. 10 because there's a lot riding on this for Long Beach and California.

Among other things, Long Beach (where previous pro-development Councils erased the city's priceless downtown beach) still has a large coastal zone that some have long lusted to develop. In 1977, residents insisted on low profile planned zoning (locally dubbed SEADIP) in exchange for acquiescing in dense development downtown. Developers never really accepted the compromise and have repeatedly pushed to do more. Those currently running LB City Hall are now in the process of an update/revision to SEADIP that's already tilting towards more intense development, but the City Council can't unilaterally make those changes without Coastal Commission approval.

Get it?

In our opinion, addressing this issue honestly requires publicly stating some inconvenient truths...from our Amnesia File.

  • The Coastal Commissioners who'll vote on the Executive Director item include LB Councilman Roberto Uranga. He's on the Coastal Commission because Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia was forced off the Commission under state law. When Garcia took office as LB's non-voting Mayor in mid-July 2014, he became ineligible for Coastal Commission membership which had been based on his status as a voting Councilmember.

  • During Garcia's Mayoral campaign, he held an Oct. 2013 fundraiser at the San Fernando Valley home of Coastal Commissioner Wendy Mitchell. The Garcia campaign's fundraiser invitation stated in part that Garcia is "the pro-business candidate, and wants Long Beach to strengthen it's [sic] name, 'The International City,' by making it an economically booming, world-class city that businesses want to be a part of."

  • Garcia's Coastal Commission appointment (initially in early 2013 to fill the remainder of the term of an exited Commissioner, then to a full term a few months later) by the state Senate Rules Committee (then-chaired by Sen. Darrell Steinberg) took place in a secretive, non-agendized Committee proceeding. The public and the press were excluded from the Committee hearing room. is told that the Senate Rules Committee has for years routinely followed this procedure in its Coastal Commission appointments.

  • made a request under the CA Legislative Open Records Act to view materials submitted by Garcia in pursuit of his initial interim appointment. Committee staff refused to release any materials.

  • It's uncertain whether Garcia would have survived (certainly not unscathed) the type of legislative appointment hearing that the public might expect on choices for important public bodies. In December 2011, Garcia was one of only three Council votes to support a controversial proposed 2nd/PCH (Seaport Marina Hotel site) development that exceeded LB coastal height limits, was opposed by wetlands advocates and (on procedural Coastal Act grounds) was opposed by LB Coastal Commission staff. The development was also opposed by the Los Cerritos Wetlands Land Trust, represented by attorney [and former Coastal Comm'n chair] Mel Nutter, and LB Council majority voted to reject the proposed development. In November 2010, Garcia was captured on video texting/typing and filling out what he later said were "thank you" notes during a sworn City Council quasi-judicial hearing on a resident's appeal under the CA Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). He then seconded a motion to deny the resident's appeal (which had raised issues over adequate control of toxic substances exposed during clean-up LB's Colorado Lagoon.)

  • After it became clear that the state law prevented Mayor Garcia from remaining on the Coastal Commission, moves began to try and change state law. Garcia traveled to Sacramento for what his office said was a meeting with Governor Brown and mayors of CA's nine largest cities...and also scheduled meetings with outgoing pro Tem/Rules Committee chair Darrell Steinberg (D;, Sacramento) and incoming President pro Tem-elect Senator de León (D, Los Angeles) as well as Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D, San Diego). Garcia's office didn't disclose the subject matter of Garcia's discussions with the Dem legislative leadership but a "gut and amend" measure (erasing text from one bill, dropping in new verbiage that avoids normal hearings) materialized a few days after his Sacramento trip.

    On August 28, 2014. reported that Garcia's "allies in the state legislature were pushing what it called the "hastily amended bill" and said critics note that Garcia "has received campaign donations from lobbyists, land-use experts, developers and others. said state Senator Ricardo Lara (D., Long Beach/Huntington Park) is reportedly the "driver behind the bill." The bill drew press attention and learned that then-Dem leadership declined to advance the bill, which failed passage, requiring Garcia to exit the Coastal Commission.

  • With Garcia off the Commission, the state Senate Rules Committee (with Sen. DeLeon as chair) appointed LB Councilman Uranga to the Coastal Commission. Senator DeLeon used the same non-transparent, secretive procedure to appoint Uranga that Sen. Steinberg had used to appoint Garcia.

  • A second attempt to change state law on Coastal Commission memebrship advanced in 2015. This time it was in an omnibus, publicly debated bill and applied to a number of CA big city Mayors (including Garcia) who lacked voting power, and proposed to make all of them potentially eligible for possible appointment to the Commission. The Coastal Commission agendized an item to discuss the legislation and the Commission voted to endorse the bill. During discussion of the agendized item, Commissioner Uranga candidly acknowledged that if the bill becomes law, he planned to use it to name Mayor Garcia as his alternate. The legislation passed and became law...but at this point Commissioner Uranga hasn't named anyone as his Coastal Commission alternate.
  • stood nearly alone in reporting these details in real time, and we were alone in editorially calling for greater openness in the process. believes the state Senate Rules Committee should open its proceedings on prospective Coastal Commission appointees to the public and the press (what a concept), including witness testimony pro and con and access to documents submitted by the prospective appointees. To our knowledge, not one organized environmental or coastal protection group publicly supported's call for these reforms during the past nearly two years. (Gentle hint: This would be a good time to start.)

    Finally: if the LB City Council can take policy positions on matters including pending U.S. Supreme Court immigration cases, why hasn't even one Councilmember in Long Beach -- with so much at stake as a coastal city -- agendized an item to put the City on record on the hot button issue now coming to the Coastal Commission? Three Councilmembers have until noon Friday to agendize such an item for voted Council action on Tuesday night Feb. transmit such a message to the Coastal Commission in time for its Wednesday Feb. 10 meeting. [For the record: the Feb. 9 Council agenda includes a proposed resolution to support "National Teen Dating Violence Awareness and Prevention Month in February" agendized by Councilmembers Richardson, Gonzalez, Price and Austin.] will carry the decisional Coastal Commission hearing LIVE on our front page, starting at 10 a.m. on Feb. 10.

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