The year 2016, which marked the 40th anniversary of the Coastal Act, was not a proud one for the powerful agency charged with regulating coastal development and ensuring maximum preservation and public access.
The problem, in my humble opinion, was not with the professional staff but with the appointed commissioners — some of whom were so feckless, arrogant, unprofessional and cozy with the development lobby that lawsuits were filed and legislative reforms introduced.
And yet Gov. Jerry Brown's Finance Department decided, in what whiffed of politics from Day One, to conduct an expensive, months-long review of staff operations based on the trumped-up argument that an emergency loan to the agency (standard procedure in state government) was cause for alarm.
It seemed, then and now, that the real reason for the review was retaliation for the public backlash that followed the February firing of beloved staff leader and Executive Director Charles Lester — a blow that marked a battle for control of the agency.
On Friday, we got the results of the witch hunt, and there wasn’t much there. As with any government bureaucracy, there appears to be room for some tighter management and better bean-counting. But greater efficiency is hard to come by when the state has plenty of money for audits but no money to hire more employees at the long-understaffed agency.
To repeat, it was the commissioners who needed the scrub, not the staff.
So here’s my suggested agenda for 2017:
Brown and state leaders need to appoint a higher class of commissioners, whose first duty is to the Coastal Act and the public. The media need to vet every one of those appointments. Commissioners who don’t report full accounts of private meetings must be publicly flogged. And the next executive director has to uphold a tradition of independence and protect the agency, and the coast, from political pressure.
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