More Thoughts about the California Coastal Commission

A few years ago I spent two days with Stevie and Norbert Dall. Norbert is busy trying to write the definitive history or California’s coastal protection legislation. The amount of research he has done amazed me as did his memory of people, places and events during those times( over 30 years ago). I believe that Norbert and Stevie are probably along with Peter Douglass and perhaps Bill Geyer and Ruth Galanter the people with the longest continuous involvement with the coastal protection movement in California. In Ruth and Bill’s cases, however, for the past decade or so they have become much less involved.

As for Peter Douglass, but for the last 20 years or so controversial years as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission, his impact on the course of things coastal has been mostly in his own mind. Peter was, by far, the earliest of all of those who have spent at least portions of their careers in coastal protection. He worked as an aid to Senator Siroty during the failed attempts in the late 60’s and early 70’s to push coastal protection legislation through the legislature. He later attempted to take un-justified credit for drafting the initiative, known as Proposition 20 that was successfully passed by the California voters in 1972 and set up an agency to plan the future land use of the coast and regulate development so as not to impede implementation of the plan. During the period of Proposition 20, while I served as Chief Counsel for the Commission, as far as I could tell Peter’s involvement in either the planning or the ongoing regulation was almost nonexistent.

Following completion of the Coastal Plan in 1975 and the submittal of the proposed implementation legislation to the legislature, most of us active at that time were determined to keep Peter as far away from any decision-making and participation as possible. Nearly all of us believed that not only was he incapable of understanding the complexities of the Plan, the legislation and the political strategy that was developed, but he had shown a distressing tendency to urge weakening of the protections whenever opposition presented itself. I had assigned on of the Commission’s staff members to sit with him every day and make sure he did nothing more that edit the legislation.

After the passage of the entire Coastal Program, Peter again disappeared from any involvement and for a while busied himself in an unsuccessful attempt to find work in the private sector. Ultimately he took a job as a not so respected member of the reconstituted Coastal Commission staff. Finding himself ignored, he resumed his search for other work when a series of unfortunate events, including resignation of the existing executive director, he, to the dismay of many in the environmental community, was chosen to succeed the departing director.

Over several years of ineffective management, his removal many on all sides of the development process urged his removal. Fortunately for Peter, the development community, through the inept handling of the move to remove him by the then Republican Governor, pushed the most radical members of the environmental community to rally around him and defeat the putsch, and Peter the Wishy-Washy seeing which side of his bread was buttered was reborn as an anti-development crusader.

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