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Government and Politics

Central Coast Senator pushes for restrictions on California Coastal Commission communications

Jordan Bell, KCBX News
Supporters of Dr. Charles Lester waive signs during public comment at Coastal Commission hearing last February in Morro Bay.

The California Assembly is now considering a bill designed to bar private communications with Coastal Commissioners by outside parties.

It's intended to control off-the-record conversations from influencing commission decisions.

SB 1190 was authored by Central Coast State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson and passed out of the Senate earlier this week by a vote of 23-12.

Jackson said the bill is needed because the public believes the commission has "run amok" in recent months. She cited the decision to fire executive director Charles Lester at a contentious meeting in Morro Bay back in February.

"...and I think the removal of Dr. Lester really brought that to the fore and has resulted in a high degree of public uncertainty and accusations about the lack of transparency and the concerns of about undue influence being imposed on the Coastal Commissioners," Jackson told KCBX.

The communications ban in Jackson's bill brings the Coastal Commission in line with other state boards and commissions, according to Jackson. It's written to prohibit ex parte communications for development permit approvals or challenges to development projects. That is, unless everyone involved is included, the conversation is not allowed.

Central Coast Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian served on the Coastal Commission for four years. He told KCBX in an emailed statement that he's "intimately aware" of the importance of ex parte communications and this bill would block the practice for about 90 percent of the Commission’s work.

"This concerns me greatly because as a voting member of the Commission, I wanted as much information as I could gain from either side of an issue prior to my vote,” said Achadjian.

The bill will likely head to the Assembly Natural Resources Committee next, but no date had been scheduled as of Thursday.

KCBX reached out to Monterey County State Senator Anthony Cannella who voted against the bill, but had not heard back from him as of this posting.