By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Oral arguments before the state Supreme Court should take place in the coming months.
Douglas further maintained that in February 2003, then-Governor Davis cured the separation-of-powers problem and insulated the commission from political influence by signing a bill that set a four-year term for legislative appointees — as opposed to the previous two-year term — and did away with a provision that enabled legislators to replace commissioners “at will.” “The state Supreme Court should overturn the appeals court, uphold the law Davis signed and declare the whole matter moot,” Douglas said.
Yet if the state’s highest court sides with Marine Forest Society, the state could be forced to transfer the commission’s enforcement authority back to the 15 counties and 110 cities currently subject to state coastal regulation, re-write the Coastal Act to place appointment power in the governor or amend the Constitution to reflect the current status quo. (The justices also will consider whether striking down the commission has a retroactive effect on decades of permit decisions — a political, judicial and administrative quagmire with disastrous consequences for the commission.)
Douglas contended that rewriting the act to give all appointment power to the governor is out of the question. If that were the case, Douglas said, the commission likely never would have survived former Governor Deukmejian, who wanted to abolish it altogether. If the commission is forced to take action, look for a voter initiative that amends the Constitution, he said. “A majority of Californians approve of the work the commission does,” Douglas said. “They will rise up against efforts to undermine it. And this governor has gone on record in support of it too.”
What Schwarzenegger has not gone on record about is the nonpartisan perception of an executive body drunk with power and rife with special-interest pressure. And last week, he apparently saw no benefit in addressing the imminent question of whether the state has become too centralized and bureaucratic in regulating its coast. But eventually he will hear from critics to the right of the commission and a growing list of individuals complaining that they are prevented from so much as building stairs on their own beachfront property, or from placing picnic tables on their property if adjacent to a state beach.
The alleged abuse of power is at the root of complaints to the left of the commission as well. Environmentalists say they won’t know which way the wind is going to blow until the commission’s upcoming meeting in San Pedro, when they see who of the governor’s appointees discloses contacts with developers that have business before the commission. Proposed construction of 379 homes in Bolsa Chica in Orange County and plans to chop 17,000 pine trees near Pebble Beach to make way for another golf course are among the projects to watch.
Said Frank Angel, a lawyer for the Sierra Club, “I’d like to give the governor and his appointees the benefit of the doubt, but there has been a corruptive influence on decision making, and it is deplorable.”