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“We are not now in deficit, we were never in deficit and we won’t be in deficit at the end of the year.” That was Susan Hansch, chief deputy director of the California Coastal Commission last August, explaining that the CCC had received almost enough money to repay $1.45 million from the state Department of Finance. According to a year-end audit by that same department, however, the CCC is such a mess that such loans, as Adam Ashton notes in the Sacramento Bee, “could be a regular occurrence.” The Commission responded that it was too shorthanded to clean up its books and requested that the Department of Finance “consider an ongoing year-end cash flow loan,” to keep the agency afloat.
California’s embattled taxpayers will surely wonder what is going on here. They provide the Commission’s annual $24 million budget and $1.2 million monthly payroll for 163 permanent employees. For all that spending, taxpayers get nothing of any value. All cities and counties on California’s coast have governments elected by the people. These elected governments are entirely capable of handling land-use issues but the unelected Coastal Commission overrides them all.
The Commission was supposed to be temporary, but before the end of the 1970s legislators predictably made it permanent. In practice, the CCC became the private domain of Peter Douglas, a regulatory zealot with little regard for property rights. On his watch the Commission became known for Mafia-style corruption. During the 1990s, Coastal Commissioner Mark Nathanson attempted to shake down celebrities for bribes and wound up serving a prison term.
As we noted, the Commission has been expanding its power into new areas such as animal management and surfing tournaments. The CCC keeps busy adding new commissioners and deploying its new power to bypass the courts and levy fines directly. Now the powerful Commission claims it is too shorthanded to clean up its own books and seeks a regular loan to keep itself afloat. Instead of rewarding unaccountability, California should take the opportunity to eliminate this arrogant, abusive and redundant Commission. That kind of leadership would set a positive example for the nation.