While access to Orange County’s shoreline is something we all enjoy, we should never take it for granted. Time and again, special interests have tried to develop our coast, putting profit above the public trust. In the 1970s, voters created the California Coastal Commission to ensure our coast would remain open to every citizen and be managed in a way that’s good for sea life and people.

Now, after 40 years stewarding our shores, the independence and effectiveness of the Coastal Commission is at risk. Recently, a behind-the-scenes effort to fire the Coastal Commission’s executive director came to light. Executive Director Dr. Charles Lester has a strong track record of protecting public beach access and helping cities prepare for a changing climate.

The Coastal Commission has a hard and important job to do. The 1,100 miles of coast they oversee includes some of the world’s most valuable real estate. While many developers respect the importance of our shared coastline, less responsible ones are clamoring to take advantage of those iconic views for mega mansions and hotels, costing the public their right to beach access.

Here in Orange County, two big proposals will come before the Coastal Commission in 2016: Banning Ranch near Newport Beach and the massive Poseidon desalination plant in Huntington Beach. One would construct 1,000 homes and a resort on the county’s largest remaining unprotected open space, and the other proposes a huge, expensive industrial facility located in a flood zone, to produce water we don’t even need at a cost we can’t afford.

Lester and his professional staff look at these proposals, as they do every plan the Commission considers, and assess how the project will affect the public’s ability to enjoy our coast, as well as the full range of potential impacts to coastal wildlife and to air and water quality. Just as the law requires.

Here at Surfrider, we track every project that goes before the Coastal Commission, and every vote they cast. We keep a record at actcoastal.org. It’s worth noting that the same Commissioners leading the charge to fire Dr. Lester are the ones with the worst environmental voting records.

Those seeking to terminate Dr. Lester have not stated their reasons. In fact, they tried to force him out in secret. With important decisions like Banning Ranch and the Poseidon desalination plant ahead of them, many fear that the firing is an attempt to remove a conscientious leader to smooth the path for unrestrained coastal development.

While California has a long history as a world leader on ocean protection and climate, thanks in part to the vision of Governor Brown, the Coastal Commission appears headed in the opposite direction. Citizens will have a chance to speak up and demand answers on Wednesday, Feb. 10, when the Coastal Commission meets in Morro Bay for a public hearing on Dr. Lester’s employment. Surfrider Foundation’s powerful network of activists recently sent a letter to commission Chairman Steve Kinsey and will be there in force to express their concerns and stand up for our coast. We hope that you’ll join us.

Stefanie Sekich-Quinn is Coastal Preservation Manager at Surfrider Foundation. Stefanie has over 15 years of experience working on environmental issues including: forestry, public lands management, ocean conservation, clean water, establishing Marine Protected Areas, and offshore oil drilling.

Voice of OC is interested in hearing different perspectives and voices. If you want to weigh in on this issue please contact Voice of OC Publisher Norberto Santana, Jr. at nsantana@voiceofoc.org

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