"That was one of the saddest moments I've ever witnessed as an American. It made me feel as if the idea that our voices matter was a complete lie."
That’s what Bill Przylucki had to say about the California Coastal Commission’s meeting last week, and he said it with a sort of tired distress in his tone. Bill works for POWER, a social justice origination based out of LA, and he recently donated forty minutes of his time to break down the California Coastal Commission woes for me.
I'd heard about it — meaning I'd clicked a headline here, overheard a conversation there, etc — but the story remained a web of tangled information to me. Did we already lose? What exactly are we losing? Who did we lose it to? And how?
Bill told me that we hadn't lost. Not yet, at least. He also gave me a comprehensive overview of the entire story and explained how to fight the good fight. Here’s what I learned.
When California entered the union in 1850, it came with the condition that her coast must forever remain public. The right to beach access is literally written into the State Constitution. As time passed, the state was slowly becoming more and more developed and so the California Coastal Commission was created in 1972.
The CCC's objectives are to guarantee access to the coast and to preserve it. These objectives get in the way of two major industries: oil and real estate. The oil industry likes to do things that seriously threaten the environment and real estate folks like to take that virgin cliff over there and turn it into an overpriced resort. Sometimes with an infinity pool.
And now, it appears as though some of the most powerful people involved in those industries want the California Coastal Committee to budge. Politics!
In January, news broke that the CCC would vote on whether or not to fire their Executive Director, Dr. Charles Lester. Lester is a well-liked and widely-respected man, so his potential termination seemed to come out of the deepest shade of blue. While the issues the CCC deals with are rarely simple (not all development is bad development), most people in the know would say that Lester has done a great job at the helm.
The movement to fire him was lead by 4 of the Committee’s 12 commissioners. The reasons they provided for their actions were vague, but seemed like they could fairly be interpreted as we want to build a bunch of shit on the coast.
Cue the storm. And an overwhelming amount of support for Lester.Photo: Taras
Over 100 organization stepped up in support of Lester. An alleged 14,000 letters of support came soaring in from individuals like you and me. Politicians across the Golden State — from Senators to Congressmen and Congresswomen to State Assembly Members to former members of the CCC to folks on City Councils — came out and said they had his back. Major media outlets picked his side. Over 1000 people showed up to a hearing in Morro Bay in support of him, but the Commission’s vote took place behind closed doors.
That was last week. And this week, Dr. Charles Lester is looking for a job.
The CCC voted 7-5 in favor of giving him the boot. It should be noted that there was an alleged total of 4 letters written that were written in favor of Lester’s termination. 14,000 vs 4. Democracy!
So what’s next?
The CCC has to hire a new Executive Director. And they better do one hell of a job. This is a decision that will permanently impact the California coast, for either good or ill. Hiring the right person helps preserve a clean, accessible, shining sea from border to border. Hiring the wrong person helps create more tar balls and the once in a lifetime opportunity to own a slice of the historic Big Sur via a timeshare overlooking Sand Dollar Beach. Infinity pool all but guaranteed.
You don’t have a vote in the hiring process, but you know what you do have? A voice. And a keyboard. Or a pen, some paper and a friendly mailman that swings by everyday at noon (probably an AARP card too if you choose that route). So take that voice and make it scream in its own special way.
Some people might want to write a few personal paragraphs on how much they cherish a pristine coastline. Others, perhaps, will polish off 9 Miller High Lifes, turn CAPS LOCK on and shuffle back and forth between relentless anger and exclamation points. Both options have their own flair and a unique impact. Diversity is always a good thing, so you do you.
Email them here. Or write a letter here: 45 Fremont Street #2000, San Francisco, CA 94105. Or call them and yell: (415) 904-5200.
I took the middle route and mixed an uncharacteristically cliche sentiment with pictures of intimidating things. Let’s win this one. —Brendan Buckley
To whom it should concern, ideally deeply,
I'm writing you to express my thoughts on the ocean. It has given me an obsession, some food, a fun way to not get fat, an escape, an excuse, stories, scars, a career, a distraction from said career, a reason to travel, a reason to learn, a reason to get out of a warm bed at 5 in the morning, a reason to live, really. But more than anything, it has given and continues to give me a sense of peace.
For some, peace can be found somewhere in the pews of an oversized cathedral. For others, it's in a cloud of chemical smoke inhaled in the trashcan alleys of some broke down city. For me, and tens of thousands of others, it exists in the ocean.
Please consider that when go about hiring a new Executive Director.