By NICK CAHILL : courthousenews – excerpt
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (CN) — Seeking to close a loophole that allows private meetings between lobbyists and California Coastal Commission members, lawmakers advanced a bill Monday that would shed light on backroom commission decisions and restrict “ex parte” communication.
Senate Bill 1190 comes in response to the commission’s sudden and controversial February ouster of executive director Charles Lester, a decision made behind closed doors that led critics to accuse commissioners of being under the “undue influence” of developers.
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said the bill will increase transparency within the beleaguered commission by forcing lobbyists to disclose private communications with the powerful regulator responsible for protecting public access to the Golden State’s 1,100 miles of coastline.
Jackson said “quasi-lobbyists” often travel with commissioners in an attempt to sway them on coastal development decisions, and that the lobbying loophole has allowed the decision-making process to become “seriously flawed.”
“This measure will reestablish due process and fairness at the commission,” Jackson said on the state Senate floor.
Following Lester’s firing, environmentalists and lawmakers have rallied together and demanded reforms to the commission that was established by voters in 1972. Currently, ex parte communications with commission staff or commissioners is allowed as long as they are disclosed through a form or if they are verbally announced during a public hearing.
Supporters of the bill claim these off-the-record conversations regarding building permits, enforcement penalties and other potential development items have tarnished the integrity of the commission.
Former commissioner and current state Sen. Fran Pavley, D-Agoura Hills, said lobbyists often reached her at home and “overwhelmed” her during her stint on the commission. She noted that being a commissioner is a part-time job, typically just three days a month, and that while on the commission she was simultaneously a teacher and mayor of Agoura Hills.
“I know the problem, and it appears it has gotten even worse,” Pavley said. “I unfortunately think we need this protection in place.”… (more)