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As we noted back in January, the California Coastal Commission, the most powerful land-use agency in the nation, fired executive director Charles Lester. Since high-level bureaucrats seldom lose their lucrative jobs, this move hinted at the prospects for improved accountability. That didn’t happen, however, and the firing of Lester, an appointee beyond the reach of voters, did not prompt legislators to put the Coastal Commission itself up for a vote. Now, as Patrick McGreevy reports in the Los Angeles Times, politicians want to expand the Commission. AB 2616, authored by assemblywoman Autumn Burke, would add three new commissioners, appointed by the governor, the Assembly Speaker and the Senate Committee on Rules, expanding the Commission to 18. The new appointees are to work with communities burdened by pollution and focus on “issues of environmental justice.” Despite the rhetoric, expanding the CCC is a bad idea.
The Coastal Commission is an unelected body that overrides the elected governments of coastal counties and cities on issues of land use. The Commission has become know for regulatory zealotry, running roughshod over property rights, and Mafia-style corruption. Commissioner Mark Nathanson, for example, served five years for bribery. Longtime CCC executive director Peter Douglas, a zealot of considerable ferocity, lobbied for the power to bypass the courts and levy fines directly. In 2014, the legislature granted that power, but the CCC always wants more. The CCC has been mounting a power surge into animal management, surfing tournaments, and pushing for influence on issues outside its jurisdiction, such the Gregory Canyon landfill in San Diego County.
California’s duly elected governments, on the coast and inland, are entirely capable of overseeing land-use and environmental concerns. The CCC demonstrates how government progressively becomes more intrusive, more expensive, and less responsive to the people. All that will increase with three new members. The CCC began as a temporary body, and as Milton Friedman used to say, temporary government projects usually become permanent. One might add that the government commission demonstrating the strongest case for elimination is the one politicians are most likely to expand.