Lester Ousted as Chief of Coastal Commission

In a 7-5 vote, the California Coastal Commission voted today to dismiss its embattled executive director, Dr. Charles Lester, despite a tremendous outpouring of public support for his stewardship. Here is Heal the Bay’s official statement about the ousting of the longtime leader and champion of environmental protection.

Heal the Bay is discouraged and disappointed by the decision made by the Coastal Commission today to terminate Dr. Charles Lester as its Executive Director. His firing is representative of a larger issue about the future of California’s coastline. The vote raises the question of what the Coastal Commission’s vision is for California’s coast, and how it diverges from Dr. Lester’s performance record of fostering collaboration, providing the public a voice, moving projects and policies forward along our coast, and upholding the Coastal Act.

Dr. Lester’s collaborative spirit led to the passage of several important policies and projects by the Coastal Commission, including the Santa Monica Mountains Local Coastal Plan and California’s first sea-level rise policy providing guidance to coastal communities about how to prepare for climate change.

We are grateful for the large outpouring of support from the public for Dr. Lester and the Coastal Act, a law poignantly referred to in public comment today as “the Constitution of our shores.” Unfortunately, the voice of the public was not heard, despite the thousands of people that rallied behind Dr. Lester encouraging the Commission to maintain his position.

The Coastal Commission received an impressive 28,000+ support letters from the public, a statement from over 150 Coastal Commission staff supporting Dr. Lester in the position of Executive Director, and over 1,600 signatures on a Heal the Bay-initiated petition supporting his tenure. Rita Kampalath, Heal the Bay’s Science and Policy Director, presented these petitions at the hearing in Morro Bay today and spoke eloquently in his defense.

In losing Dr. Lester’s leadership, Heal the Bay fears that several important projects will stall at the Commission, including the development of Local Coastal Plans for Santa Monica, Venice, and Hermosa Beach. We are also concerned that that the loss of his decades of institutional knowledge will negatively impact the functionality of the Coastal Commission and its staff. There is trepidation that transition at the leadership level could open up the Coastal Commission to pressures from development and erode Coastal Act implementation.

Regardless of today’s disappointing action, Heal the Bay will continue to track the Coastal Commission, and advocate for improvement on issues that this process has brought to light, like transparency in Coastal Commission decision-making.

We expect the new Executive Director to maintain a collaborative working relationship with Heal the Bay and other stakeholders in the same style as Dr. Lester, and work quickly to address pressing issues that face our coast — such as sea-level rise, climate change, and coastal access for all.

Thank you to all our community members who expressed their concerns directly to the Commission over the past few weeks. We will remain vigilant.