Sunday, June 12, 2011

Cancer and Saving the Sundown Coast

Blog 2:  Cancer and Saving the Sundown Coast – A Personal Story
Part One
(June 12, 2011)
Peter Douglas

My goal is to avoid failure.  If my professional healers and I can achieve this I will call it success.  Meanwhile my gift-giving cancer keeps giving.  At the same time it is clever hiding, adapting, resisting and quite stubborn about leaving my body.  But I am determined as well.  So the mortal dance under sun and stars continues.

Among many gifts given by my condition is clarity of mind and muses of the written word who have become therapeutically active again.  There are many things I want to write about, but like most just now the idea of telling my story about saving the sundown coast – California’s geographic soul.  Let me be clear at the outset there are numerous heroic authors of this story, many I will undoubtedly fail to mention here and for that I apologize.  This is not intended as an academic piece but a personal narrative of what I remember, what I think I remember and what I remember, perhaps, not exactly the way it really was.  But that’s a license anyone scribing an autobiographical sketch can claim.

I became a newborn activist in my second year of law school at U.C.L.A. in the late ‘60s.  Some will say if I remember those times I wasn’t there.  Believe me, I was and those times firmly set the course of my life which has not strayed far from trail markings etched then on my moral, ethical and philosophical compass.  My activism focused on social justice, civil and individual rights and liberties, antipoverty and anti-war activities, prisoner rights, fair housing, and student counseling (focused on resistance to a horribly misguided war in Asia).  Environmental justice and environmental protection were not yet on my radar.  I became chairperson of an organization I and three colleagues (John Lovell, Wally Walker and Ralph Ochoa) established at the law school.  We called it the Community Participation Center (CPC).    

Nearing completion of my degree, I joined several fellow travelers to form a law collective named Bar Sinister – meaning on the left side in Latin.  I didn’t follow through on that path after my former wife, Roe, who was CPC’s executive secretary – a most convenient arrangement for both of us - informed me she was going back to her native home, Germany, because, among other reasons, she just couldn’t cope with the seeming futility of our efforts.  I too was feeling the strains of burnout and without regret agreed to join her in a search for another home.  Love and alienation are powerful forces.  To this day I am proud of the good work we did at CPC.  Like much in life, our tangible achievements were temporary, but we made our mark at the time and changed the lives of many who worked on causes we engaged.         

Finding Direction
After the Trojan war, Homer’s hero, Odysseus, on his ten year odyssey returning home in Ithaca and a life forever changed, nearly lost his crew to temptation in the land of Lotus Eaters on the low lying island of Djerba, off the coast of Tunisia. 
"I was driven thence by foul winds …[to] the land of the Lotus-eaters…. Here we landed to take in fresh water…. I sent two of my company to see what manner of men the people of the place might be…. (T)he Lotus-Eaters, who did them no hurt, gave them to eat of the lotus, which was so delicious that those who ate of it left off caring about home….(T)hough they wept bitterly I forced them back to the ships and made them fast under the benches. Then I told the rest to go on board at once, lest any of them should taste of the lotus and leave off wanting to get home, so they took their places and smote the grey sea with their oars." ( Homer’s Odyssey IX)
I lay dozing beneath a clear cerulean sky on a deserted white sand beach in February 1970 in that land of the Lotus Eaters.  I had been rereading the Odyssey and when I came to this part of the story began thinking more closely on how one find’s one’s way.  I too had seemingly lost my desire to go back to my adopted home in California.  Our personal odyssey was a search for a place we would feel comfortable calling and making our home.  My former wife, Roe and I had become alienated from a country riven by war and driven toward inevitable demise by a mindless consumer culture powered by greed and mass myopia.  We had been on the road more than six months living out of our VW van for less than $2.50 a day.  We were in southern Tunisia making our way slowly across North Africa to Morocco.   When we were able to receive it, I liked listening to folk music on AFN (American Forces Network).  That morning, shortly before the U.S. was thrown out by Khadafy, we got a signal from the airbase near Tripoli.  Simon and Garfunkel’s version of Bridge Over Troubled Waters grabbed and held me. 
Frustrated and disillusioned, even  angry about the injustice, discrimination, absence of community consciousness and self-righteous jingoism pervasive in America we decided to leave shortly after I took the Bar exam in summer of 1969.  Besides what kind of regressive country was it that didn’t even offer its citizens universal health care!  Ironically, we took the advice of a popular jingoistic bumper sticker of the time:  America.  Love it or leave it!”
After months of travel in many countries searching for a place to settle, searching for a place we discovered didn’t exist, I came to understand that no country is or could ever be all I wanted it to be.  I began to form an opinion of America quite different from the one that drove me away.  With experience and exposure to other cultures, my perspective evolved.  In retrospect, my work as a relatively successful progressive activist in law school taught me to appreciate the freedoms individual citizens have in America.  There we have the right and ability to get involved and bring about actual social change.  Indeed, I began to see it as a citizen’s responsibility in a democracy, such as it is.  Certainly, our law school projects did not change the world, but our labor had purpose and meaning.  We made an impact.  We opened many young minds to become aware of and think about injustice, causes of poverty and futility of war.  We planted seeds of activism in the fertile grounds made possible by the flowering of a new consciousness in that remarkable age of Aquarius.  (Look into the symbolism of Aquarius to better appreciate the profundity of the times.)  We demonstrated the importance of questioning authority.  Injustice and exploitation of the less powerful will continue to thrive so long as individuals remain sitting idly on the sidelines.  The fire of activism still burned bright within me.   
Bridge over Troubled Waters got me thinking about many ideological and emotional wedge issues that divide us as a people and community in America.  I sensed it was probably the same everywhere.  Since leaving, I had grown disdainful of armchair activists who talked a good line but didn’t walk their talk.  I now saw myself in the same light and didn’t like it.  There is always a need for dedicated activists who, in addition to taking a stand, strive to bridge differences by finding common ground and bringing vision, dedication, common sense, compassion, integrity and empathy to the table.  I believe in the innate goodness of people and that love and light nest gently somewhere in every heart.  I still believe people want to do the “right thing”, if only they could agree on what that is.  Perhaps I could be a better bridge builder than I had been in law school.  I resolved there that morning on the warm sands of Djerba to forgo eating of the lotus, to ignore the sirens’ song and return to California and work for change in a good way.  I told Roe why I had decided to go back.  Now the choice was hers.  Thankfully, she decided to return with me. 
It would be another adventure filled six months before we crossed the border at Calexico into California after weeks on an ancient rust bucket freighter with our van.  We began the last leg of our long journey driving slowly north through Mexico from the Yucatan Peninsula.  We had disembarked in Vera Cruz, Mexico, after stops in the Canary Islands, Curacao, Venezuela, Santa Domingo, and Puerto Rico.  We learned months later our ship, the “Satruscague” finally succumbed to an obvious case of extreme neglect, sprang a leak and sank in the Caribbean.  Ironically, she was the second ship ferrying me to the New World as an asylum seeker to meet her fate at the bottom of the sea.
 Perhaps predictably, soon after crossing into the United States radio reports reminded us not much had changed since we left some thirteen months earlier, except now protests against the Viet Nam war had escalated.  War casualties continued to mount, discrimination against non-white Americans still ran rampant across the land, murders in Los Angeles were on the rise, Ronald Reagan was still striving to destroy government, lingering damage from the disastrous 1969 oil spill in the Santa Barbara Channel was still much in evidence, and money was still corrupting politics.  But hey, what did we expect!  Another reminder we were back came early in the morning the day after we arrived at my mother’s house in Redondo Beach.  A powerful, destructive 6.6 earthquake centered in the nearby San Fernando Valley struck early morning on February 9, 1971.  It felt like we never left.                
Pounding pavement – right place, right time
Our savings exhausted, it was time to look for gainful employment.  In keeping with my desire to work for social change, I knocked only on doors of law firms I knew were engaged in progressive practice.  I was well received wherever I inquired but none of these firms could afford to pay me.  Poverty law practice was a marginal enterprise when it came to paying bills and school loans.  I received several offers but only if I could bring my own clients along, which I was in no position to do.  Then, out of the blue, I received a call from Rowan Klein, a former law school classmate who was working for Alan Sieroty, a liberal state legislator from the West Side of LA.  Rowan had heard I was back and looking for work.  He told me Alan wanted to hire a legislative aid to work primarily on environmental legislation, specifically a bill to protect California’s coast.  I was not excited about stepping into a political system I knew to be corrupt and dominated by special interests who had no concern about community well-being.  But I needed employment, was a bit desperate, and had heard good things about Sieroty and Rowan’s work.  I agreed to meet Alan and Rowan for breakfast in Santa Monica.   
I liked Alan the moment we met - a large man, easy in bearing, gentle in manner.  I could tell he was a very kind person.  As our conversation progressed it was obvious Alan had a sharp mind, high ethical standards, liberal, progressive ideals and an endearing twinkle in his eye.  We bonded from the start.  After a short exchange of biographies, we discussed his broad progressive legislative agenda that included abolition of the death penalty, prison reform, consumer protection, health care reforms, royalty protections for artists, and environmental quality – specifically legislation to safeguard the California coast.  He indicated he would probably be carrying a coastal protection bill for environmental organizations that had recently formed a statewide alliance.  He needed someone located in Sacramento to write the bill and shepherd it through the process. 
I had a long, intense history with the coast and ocean.  The thought of being able to somehow protect “forever” this precious geography intrigued me.  I had never considered work in environmental law, but was attracted by the fact I would also be involved in other aspects of Alan’s progressive legislative agenda.  After several hours and too much coffee, Alan said he would think about offering me the job and asked me to do the same.  I told him I was not interested in moving to Sacramento, a place I considered an unsophisticated backwater known to be a good place to be “from”, close to many other areas one would rather be – the Sierras and Lake Tahoe, the Napa Valley, San Francisco, and the coast.  On this point there was no room to negotiate.  He made clear I would have to move to Sacramento if I wanted the job.  He offered to pay for a visit by us to see for ourselves if we could live there.  A few days later Rowan called to tell me Alan was offering me the job.  Roe and I packed our few belongings in our trusty van, which we had named “Zorba”, and headed north to Sacramento.  To our pleasant surprise we liked River Town.  We liked very much the people we met in the capitol with whom I would be working.  Aside from the fact one could crawl across any downtown street after without getting run over, we decided to accept Alan’s offer and looked for a place to live.
River Town
We rolled into Sacramento one foggy February afternoon, found our hotel and met Alan and Rowan in the capitol.  The first person I met who would become a dear friend and colleague was Alan’s long-time secretary, Paula Olson.  Paula was the steadying force in the office without whose incredible skills much of what we as Alan’s staff produced and what Alan accomplished could not have been achieved.  Hers, as I was to discover, was not an easy life, especially the last few years of which she spent in selfless service to the terminally ill. Ethan Wagner, Alan’s Chief of Staff, dropped by on his way out the door to a new job working for the majority leader, Democrat Wally Karabian.  I had been warned by Rowan that drafting a good coastal protection bill would be easy, but getting one passed and signed would be nearly impossible and could take years.  Ronald Reagan, the Governor at the time, and most Republicans adamantly opposed state infringement on private property rights and interference with “home rule” - local government’s self perceived sacrosanct prerogatives relating to land use controls.  I recall Ethan’s look of incredulity when I naively asked why, given the iconic status of California’s coast, Democrats and Republicans could not simply agree on a protection plan for this irreplaceable geographic treasure.  He chuckled, eyes rolled to the ceiling and simply said, “you’ll see.”  It didn’t take long to understand why there could be no meeting of the minds on coastal protection:  Corruption, ideological entrenchment, hypocrisy, ignorance, special interest lobbyists, corporate power ruled the political roost then as monied power still does today.  Indeed, more so than ever.
Although I had not yet formally agreed to accept Alan’s offer, everyone assumed I was working for him.  My work space was to be a coat closet with its door removed.  An old, chipped desk was wedged inside and took up the entire space.  Piles of papers and reports covered the top.  Then O. James Pardau whirled into the office like a dervish on drugs, briefly said hello and shoved a fat file folder into my hands:  “Here’s the first rough cut at a coastal bill.  It’s all yours now.  Good luck!”  He was gone before I could ask any questions.  But that was Jim, frenetic energy incarnate, sporting a perpetual twisted look as if the world would either end any moment or be forever saved.  Jim was the Chief Consultant to the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources, Planning and Public Works, chaired by Sacramento Assembly Member Ed Z’berg, a close colleague of Alan’s and friend of the coast.  It was not clear at the time who the original author of that first draft was.  I later pieced it together and discovered it was E. Lewis Reid, a brilliant attorney from the Bay Area who volunteered his services to Janet Adams and the organization she created and led, the California Coastal Alliance.   
Though a bit shell-shocked by the pace of the place, I was caught up in its excitement and the potential of doing good things and making a difference.  I liked the legislative staffers I met as well the few members from the liberal side of the isle.  It soon became clear that while some ground work had been done on a coastal bill, I would be practically starting from scratch.  I received offers of help, many of which I gladly accepted.  Roe and I considered our situation and decided to accept the job.  Little did I know then that this fateful decision would launch me on a life-long labor of love and in a direction I had not dreamed of even a few weeks earlier.  Because Alan had not supported Robert Moretti for Speaker of the Assembly in 1971, he was “punished” with a small office and small staff.  The only open position he had for me was formally classified “Second Girl” and paid $350. a month.  He agreed to match it out of his own pocket.  And so began my legislative career.
I was not always a coastal activist but historic ties to seashore and sea, the magnetic magic of its geography, the remarkable people I met dedicated to its preservation, my increasing awareness of countless threats, and the meaningful, purposeful challenge of the cause quickly grabbed me and never let go.  Seeds of environmentalism had been planted long before I arrived in River Town.  After finishing my undergraduate degree in Psychology at U.C.L.A., I “joined” the merchant marine world and shipped out on a Norwegian chemical tanker to work my way across the Atlantic for graduate studies in Germany and to visit my pen-pal of six years, Roe.  (We married a year later.)  Graduate school was excruciatingly boring.  I dropped out and began studies with an amazing curmudgeon whom I met in a Gasthaus down the cobbled street on which I lived in a tiny dungeon-like room in the medieval town of Marburg.  Henri Lohrengel was incredible – a retired high school teacher, concert violinist, linguist (he read, spoke and wrote twenty-three languages!), a Renaissance scholar extraordinaire, fine fly fisherman, great teller of tall tales, and simply the most knowledgeable person I had and have ever met.  He looked like a rough hewn gargoyle taken from the craggy upper reaches of Notre Dam.  I spent late afternoons in the Gasthaus with University friends and noticed Henri sitting in a dark corner reading, smoking and nursing his beer.  I was curious and asked about him.  “Oh, that’s cranky, cookie Herr Henri.  Stay away from him, he thinks he knows everything and you know nothing.”  That did it.  I walked over and introduced myself as a reporter of things from America and wondered if he would mind my asking him a few questions about Viet Nam.  Several hours later I knew more about South East Asian affaires than I had imagined.  I confessed my phony cover (as if he couldn’t tell) and asked if we could meet again. 

Over the next six months Henri became my friend and personal teacher.  He blessed me with the finest educational experience of my life.  We studied Greek classics, Shakespeare, Roman writers, Hesse, Buddhism, the Bible, Koran, Vedas, geopolitics, ethics and what man has and is doing to destroy the Earth.  Henri was also a Naturalist of sorts.  Though not a Jew, he suffered under the Nazi’s as a socialist-leaning intellectual.  He was a tough old bird who sparked more than intellectual curiosity in me, he planted seeds of wisdom that I still treasure.  He also watered seeds of activism in me.  “If you are going to get shafted by your exploitative culture in America (which you know you inevitably will), you better be busy about the craft of shaping the shaft to your liking.”  Another was a version of Chief Seattle’s profound and enduring reminder that “The Earth does not belong to us.  We belong to the Earth.”  His words of wisdom got me thinking about Earth and environment in ways I had not explored before.

My earliest recollection of and introduction to environmental ethical thought and practice came from my precious grandmother.  Though herself a concert harpsichordist and JS Bach specialist for whom only music mattered, she was a great admirer of her dear friend and mentor Albert Schweitzer.  She spoke of him often and shared his writings with me.  He is famous for many things, primarily his humanitarian medical work in Africa.  He also revered all life and cared dearly for creatures other than humans.  He once relocated a hospital on construction plans to avoid disturbing an ant trail.  I spent considerable alone-time with my grandmother and could not help but be influenced by her frequent mentioning of Schweitzer’s environmental ethic.  Those treasured Mima moments (all her grandchildren called her that), planted seeds of environmentalism that went dormant in my adolescent mind to emerge in due time years later.

So my mindset and thinking about best ways to ensure permanent protection for the coast evolved in a receptive context.  My environmental roots took hold grew and flowered in those early months working in the Legislature.  I made a conscious effort to pay close attention to and fine tune my ethical compass.  Good thing too.  It was this compass that kept bringing back my bearings as the forces of exploitation, corruption, regressive ideologies, pragmatic politics, and an overly compliant will to compromise among some I worked with pushed us in a direction I, Alan and our closest allies knew would result in an ineffectual outcome.  Working together we agreed on some fundamental principles that we insisted be incorporated in any final coastal conservation legislation.


  • Local vs. greater than local interests:  A major driver of statewide coastal protection was the fact narrow local considerations, political, fiscal (e.g., need for property tax revenues) and otherwise (cronyism), often superseded broader concerns about adverse effects on important coastal resources stemming from local land use decisions.  Local governments often simply ignored significant spill-over effects outside their arbitrary jurisdictional boundaries.  Statewide public interests were brushed aside as not being the local government’s issues or concern.  Examples include loss of public access along ten miles of Sonoma coast; a nuclear power plant approved on Bodega Head barely inside county line; wetlands filled or dredged without regard to their regional, even national ecological value; poorly designed and located industrial, commercial or residential development with major negative scenic, water polluting, air quality and other impacts beyond city or county limits.

    The debate over local, “home rule” versus statewide interests raged in Sacramento in 1971 and ’76, as well during the coastal initiative campaign in 1972.  Concern for safeguarding broader public interests prevailed and deemed important enough to be given overriding consideration.  So where a conflict between state and local public interests exists, the State interest trumps and must be protected.  This principle has now been permanently embedded in and is fundamental to coastal conservation legislation.

  • The precautionary principle:  If we had learned anything from the disastrous Santa Barbara Channel oil spill in 1969 and first Earth Day in 1970 it was that human induced change on the planet is often unpredictable with major destructive unintended consequences.  Also that we had to be more mindful and careful about how we treat our Mother Earth because we can and often do her irreparable harm by mindless acts of use and exploitation.  Besides, we lacked the certainty of knowledge about outcomes of many land use decisions. 

    The precautionary principle is simple and sensible, recognizing that while we thought what we were doing would be harmless, in reality the opposite is often true.  The widespread use of DDT is but one glaring example.  We decided to incorporate the principle into coastal legislation by structuring the proposed law in a way that unless it can be shown by a project proponent that a proposed use (e.g., new development) would not have significant adverse effects on coastal resources it would not be approved.  In short, when in doubt deny.  The underlying concept of this principle had ethical roots in our sense of legacy, of intergeneration responsibility so that by permitting new development today we would not preclude future generations from experiencing and benefiting from use and enjoyment of the same coastal resource.  Examples include coastal access and recreational use, protection of environmentally sensitive habitat, landscape diversity, scenic, agricultural, historic and cultural resources.  Since the California coast is dynamic and we know Nature bats last, we also applied the principle to protection against hazards that could threaten life or property.
  • Failure avoidance:  I find it ironic that this paradigm has surfaced again in my struggle with cancer as it is the principle applied by the Block Center for Integrated Cancer Treatment in Illinois where I intend to now go for treatment.  Our thinking in 1971 was that while we weren’t sure how to define success in our cause, we certainly new what failure was and that’s what we wanted to avoid.  We were aware then, as is yet true today, victories in environmental advocacy are often temporary while losses are permanent.  We were determined to avoid or at least minimize losses.  Additionally, though we didn’t realize it then, the primary successes of coastal protection laws would be things we DON”T see – public access not lost, wetlands not filled, scenic views not spoiled, new subdivisions not approved, agricultural lands not converted, ugly development not built, etc. 

    Contrary to the Reagan Administration’s ideology and mindset, a regressive line of thinking that has reemerged with a vengeance in contemporary politics, we felt that redundancy in the interest of long-term environmental protection was a good thing.  So while the Administration argued that existing agencies with some control over the use and protection of coastal resources was sufficient, we argued otherwise.  True there were stovepipe agencies such as the Department of Fish and Game, Water Quality Control Boards, Resource Conservation Districts, Department of Navigation and Development, etc., however they all lacked vision, had narrow mandates, and little regulatory control over land use decisions rapidly ravaging the coast.  In addition there were many dozens of local governments who, in the name of “home rule” argued it was their exclusive prerogative to control local land uses and the State had no business getting involved.  The rub with that argument was that “home rule” meant parochial rule where purely local interests trumped broader community and statewide public interests.  The adverse “spillover” effects of local decisions were ignored at great expense to those not yet born or who happened to come from or live outside arbitrary city or county boundary lines.  The coast was too fragile, too vulnerable and too important to allow home rule to rule.

    The arguments against us were that redundancy results in inefficiencies and hinders economic development.  In truth, arguments calling for greater efficiency, permit “streamlining” and elimination of redundancies in the area of environmental protection were simply euphemisms for “compromise is necessary”, “what’s a minor environmental loss if it means more jobs”,  “just get out of the way, you are holding up progress”, and “you are only making the perfect the enemy of the good.”  Fortunately we were able to reject those arguments and expose them for the phony pony for developers that they were.  We successfully argued that when it comes to protecting the public’s interest in coastal conservation redundancy is a good thing and is best able to avoid failure which we came to see as the new measure of success.  I am happy to say, now in retrospect, we were right.  We have minimized failure and thereby achieved success.

  • Strong state land use policies:  A principal driver of efforts to create a State coastal management regime was the parochial and regressive nature of “home rule” thinking and the absence of strong state level protection policies.  The simplistic notion was that locals know best how to wisely use lands within their jurisdiction.  The rub is what is in is meant by “best land use in the best public interest.”  What is “best”?  What “public” is being considered in deciding what the public interest to be protected is?  Unfortunately, experience showed time and again that many local land use decisions were forced by local, parochial political considerations failing to take into account adverse spillover effects beyond arbitrary city or county jurisdictional lines.  Primary among broader public interests often ignored were those involving public access to beaches and shorelines, destruction of environmentally sensitive habitats, loss of agricultural lands, spoliation of highly scenic landscapes, adverse effects of leapfrog development and speculative subdivisions, major landform alterations, and siting of polluting industries.

    The battle between “home rule” advocates and promoters of statewide interests was fierce and revisited several times in 1970, 1971, 1972 and again in 1976.  The first two rounds went to “home rulers” while the last two, which proved to be decisive, were won by those pushing protection of statewide public interests.  By passing Proposition 20 in 1972 and enactment of the Coastal Act in 1976, California voters and the Legislature made clear that “home rule” would no longer trump statewide public interests.  As a result California coastal management legislation is absolutely clear that when local and statewide interests collide, the statewide interests must prevail.  In reality, state and local interests can often be reconciled in a mutually acceptable manner.  The key is getting people of good will together to find common ground and being willing to make reasonable accommodations without compromising fundamental statewide public interests.         

    This basic reality of California’s coastal conservation regime is often lost to some local government newbies who weren’t around when these ideological struggles were joined and resolved in the early seventies of the last millennium.  I guess this comes with the territory when you have people who choose to self-servingly ignore lessons of the past.     
  • Permits and planning:  Having learned from multiple failures in other places and following the example established when the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission was first formed in 1965, it was decided that any land use planning effort for the coast would need to be overlain on a permit regulatory system.  The thinking was simple:  In the absence of interim regulatory controls, any planning that is done would most likely be rendered moot by development decisions made during the planning period.  This element turned out to be perhaps the most controversial part of proposed legislation but also most essential and thus stayed in various iterations despite furious opposition from realtors, private property rights groups, large landowners, oil companies, local governments, and others.  In retrospect, another wise decision.

    An important positive dynamic of this permit-planning nexus that we had not anticipated was that the permit review process made real the planning part of the program.  Staff and commissioners, many of whom lacked any experience in land use planning or regulation, had to come to terms with real life conflicts where private land owner expectations clashed with broader public interests in long-term preservation.  It moved land and water use planning decisions from the esoteric into the real world of individual dreams, expectations and investment.  Overall this dynamic had the salutary effect of impressing on commissioners they were dealing with decisions that mattered, with significant short and long-term implications.
  • Appointments, representation and process:  Lew Reid, the brilliant pro-bono Legislative Director and counsel for the California Coastal Alliance, came to his role in California as former minority staff to the US Senate Interior and Insular Affaires Committee.  As such he identified with the federal system of governance where the President makes all important appointment to Executive Branch agencies.  As such Lew felt the Governor should make all appointments to the new Coastal Commission with, perhaps, Senate confirmation.  We were adamantly opposed to this approach having learned that no matter how good the law if you have weak people appointed to implement it or people who don’t support it, it matters little how strong the letter of the law is.  Besides Ronald Reagan was the Governor at the time and he was vigorously opposed to State land use controls.  We could only imagine what sort of libertarian saboteurs he would appoint.  Ironically as it turned out after California voters approved the Coastal Initiative in 1972, Reagan appointed by and large good commissioners including one who became the first Chair of the newly formed Coastal Commission and still ranks in my view as the best commissioner ever to serve, Mel Lane.

    More importantly, Alan and I felt that by dividing equally the appointing authority between the Governor, Speaker of the State Assembly and the Senate Rules Committee (in reality, the President Pro Tem of the Senate) it would be less likely any single ideology would come to dominate Commission thinking and decisions.  We felt this would give the Commission a healthy balance of perspectives and political representation.  Another critical element in our approach was to ensure that the people appointed to the Commissions (it was envisioned there would be six regional commissions and one statewide commission given the length and diversity of the California coast) came from a cross-section of citizen volunteers who would reflect the demographics of dynamic California.  Since most of the land use decisions commissioners would be called on to make were of a subjective nature wrapped around a somewhat diffuse vision of what current and future generations would want for their coast, we were looking for ordinary citizen representation in policy making positions and not professional planners, special interest shills, political hacks, local government “home rule” ideologues, or those with a particular ax to grind.

    The role of local government in California’s new coastal management regime was quite problematic.  Many supporters saw local government as the primary, parochial culprit in short sighted land use decision-making that came at the expense of the broader best public interest.  Some wanted to cut local government out of the process entirely.  We recognized this as politically unrealistic and felt that given a strong coastal conservation law even local government officials could become positive partners in coastal protection.  Then the question became what proportion of representation would be given to local government.  The compromise solution was to make half the appointees to the Regional Commissions local government elected officials and configure the State Commission so that at least half would be public member appointees and half selected, one each, by each Regional Commission.  This meant the Regional representatives to the State Commission could but didn’t have to be locally elected officials.  This compromise worked until the Regional Commissions were terminated in 1981 and six of the twelve State Commissioners would thereafter be locally elected officials (City Council Members or County Supervisors).
  • Burden of proof:  A disquieting feature of geography, especially along the coast, in the 1960’s was the rapidity of change.  People were troubled by what they saw – wetlands filled for roads and housing, agricultural lands converted to second home subdivisions, highly scenic areas spoiled by ticky-tacky building, sleepy seaside communities invaded by high-rise structures, new marinas, and proliferation of polluting industrial uses such as offshore oil drilling.  “Future Shock” had arrived with a vengeance.  People wanted to slow the pace of change especially in special places like San Francisco Bay, the coast, Lake Tahoe and the Santa Monica Mountains.   

    A principal goal of coastal legislation became preservation of the status quo as much as possible while sensible planning for the long-term conservation and use of the coast could be completed.  Accordingly, coastal legislation was structured in such a way that any change of the status quo by new development would require an affirmative vote of a majority of coastal commissioners and the proponent of change would have the burden of proving their new development will not have any significant adverse effects on important coastal resources.  Lew Reid noted that this provision alone represented a monumental shift in the way land use decisions had been historically made in this country.  Traditionally the presumption of approval favored applicants with government having the burden of showing why the development ought not be approved.  We changed this and shifted the burden of proof to the proponent of new development.  From now on, at least along the coast, an applicant would have to show that its development would not have significant adverse environmental effects.
  • Independent quasi-judicial agency:  Another essential feature was the independence of the proposed new Commission.  By independence we simply meant not under the direct control of the governor, any governor.  I have now worked under seven governors (Jerry Brown twice), all hostile to the Commission.  One even campaigned for office promising to abolish the Commission.  He failed while managing to hamstring the agency with budget cuts and mean-spirited harassment tactics (we had to make do with rotary phones, Wang word processers, housed in cramped, inhumane offices, forced closure of our North Coast Office. Etc.).  All seven were antagonistic because the Commission operates outside the direct control of the Executive Branch.  And that’s the way we wanted it knowing hostility would necessarily come with the territory.

    The Commission’s independence as a quasi-judicial agency and strict conflict of interest prohibitions have been the hallmark of and key to its success.  The California Coastal Commission has been recognized as the most powerful land use agency in the country and, indeed, the most effective in the world.  I say this not as a mark of arrogance but as a matter of pride.  The California coast is one of the most exclusive reaches of real estate on the planet.  As such an exclusive right to a place on it is highly coveted and extremely valuable, especially since coastal legislation severely limits what can be built there.  Competition for space and uses is intense and the stakes enormous.  We knew this would happen and accordingly understood that opportunities for corruption and political interference in the Commissions’ work would be many.  Indeed, it is somewhat surprising though laudatory that in its forty year history and the service of several hundred commissioners only one has gone to prison for corruption (though a few others should have).  When consultants to the World Bank visited me last year and reported their finding that the California Coastal Commission is, in their opinion, the strongest and most effective coastal management agency in the world the principal reason given for their conclusion is the absence of corruption and failure by the regulated community to capture or co-opt the regulators.
  • Public participation and public support:  Because we could not move coastal legislation through the Legislature in 1971-72 we turned to the voters and the initiative process.  I know I am getting ahead of myself, but this is important.  I have always considered the Coastal Act as the People’s Law because it was citizen activists and strong, ongoing public support that has made possible California’s remarkable record of success in coastal conservation.  Maximizing public participation through transparency of process, citizen enforcement provisions, public education and welcoming public involvement has been critical to the law’s success.  In fact, every time weakening legislation is proposed, with a few unfortunate exceptions, vocal and highly visible public opposition has come to the rescue and preserved the law’s integrity.

  • Jurisdictional reach:  The Commission’s jurisdiction is broad in terms of geographic reach, though not as inclusive as it should be in several areas along the coast.  It also applies to all persons, legal entities and local, regional, state and federal public agencies, including special districts such as industrial ports, seeking to carry out activities deemed to be “development” under a very liberal definition of that term in the Coastal Act.  In a few instances a strategic division of institutional authority was politically necessary.  Examples include power plant siting, timber harvest and port master plans.  To be effective we knew the Commission’s jurisdictional reach had to be broad having learned that from experience around San Francisco Bay.

  • Staged implementation:  Taking another page from the BCDC model, we structured the legislation for implementation in phases.  The first phase included preparation of a comprehensive Coastal Plan which was completed in 1975 and remains the quintessential coastal planning document anywhere.  I call it the Constitution of the Coast.  This initial phase included a rather limited interim regulatory component (the permit area was limited to an area 1,000 yards from the water’s edge).  The next phase was enactment of the Coastal Act in 1976 and then implementation of a local coastal planning process that has, with a few exceptions, now been completed. 

    Phased implementation was a purely pragmatic strategy selected not only for political purposes but also in recognition that coastal management would necessarily be a work in progress, incorporating an adaptive approach.  We were learning as the program progressed over time.  No one knew in the beginning what the final outcome would look like so there was nothing that could be fixed in place, other than the basic elements summarized here, until experience with what worked and what didn’t was accumulated.  This strategy was also essential in garnering editorial support for the Coastal Initiative. 
  • Judicial review:  Since Commission regulatory decisions carried significant consequences judicial review was essential.  This was seen as a necessary check and balance of Commission authority.  Over time, the Commission has become one of the most frequently sued agencies in State government.  In addition to disgruntled applicants, neighbors, and local governments, citizen suits challenging Commission actions are not uncommon and have proven to be a critical component of coastal management in California and elsewhere.  While the Commission has prevailed in well over ninety percent of cases brought against or by it, when it has lost a case the result has often been an unanticipated strengthening of the law – transforming the “loss” into a “win.”.

  • Protection of private property rights:  A final fundamental was specific mention of private property rights.  Though unnecessary because State and federal law requires it, safeguarding private property rights in the legislation underscored that the Commission was not above the law and needed to be mindful of private rights as it promotes its public mission. 

    Herding cats, gathering momentum

Activists are free spirits.  Organizing them is truly like herding cats.  The best cat-herder-organizer I have ever known is Janet Adams, founder, and first and only ED of the California Coastal Alliance the umbrella statewide organization formed in 1971 for the sole purpose of enacting coastal protection legislation.  Janet brought experience and unique skills to the table.  A leader in the successful 1969 campaign to save San Francisco Bay by establishing the Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), she had managed the campaign of Arlen Gregorion, the first San Mateo County Democrat to be elected to the State Senate and had co-managed the campaign of Congressman Pete McCloskey.  Janet and her associate, Alexander Donald, co-founded “Conservation Coordinators, Inc.”, a legal entity that provided free management advice to financially strapped conservation campaigns.  Described as a “life raft” for poor conservationists, their corporation was a “no nonsense”, kick-ass outfit, avoiding lost causes, with an impressive winning record of campaigns they believed in.   

When I arrived on the scene in February 1971, the Alliance’s predecessor, the Coastal Coalition had just come off a failed attempt to enact a coastal bill the year before.  The elections of 1970, many focused on environmental issues, gave Democrats a one vote margin in the State Senate, with a larger majority in the Assembly.  The Coalition’s coastal bill was countered by a local government control bill carried by then Assembly Member Pete Wilson, who later went on to become mayor of San Diego and then Governor of California.  We didn’t like his bill.  Both failed.  The manner in which Pete’s bill died in the Senate, without even getting a hearing, angered him to the point he sat down with us the next year and we reached agreement on a formulation giving local government a major role in any future coastal planning and regulatory scheme.  Pete then became a supporter of Alan’s bills and ultimately Proposition 20 (something he later said he deeply regretted). 

In November 1970, in the immediate wake of environmental wins in the elections, Jim Pardau called Janet suggesting immediate action was necessary to make coastal legislation a top environmental priority in 1971.  Janet and her Associate agreed to help organize a new effort to build a broader alliance of organizations focused on enacting a coastal protection bill.  A small group of coastal activists met around a cafĂ© table in
Ghirardelli Square
in San Francisco to lay the groundwork.  That meeting was followed by an all day working session with coastal activist leaders from throughout the State in the Napa home of Assembly Member John Dunlap.  Alan who had authored the enviro’s bill in 1970 was selected to be primary sponsor of the Alliance’s bill.  Janet was appointed managing director of the new coastal campaign, Bill Kortum, a Sonoma County veterinarian, veteran of several local coastal conservation campaigns and the iconic coastal John Muir, was elected Chair.  A Board of Directors was appointed and Lew Reid was recruited as legislative chair.  Representation at this working session reached across the political and social spectrum, dispelling the notion coasties were just a bunch of bird watchers and tree huggers.  The meeting at John’s home occurred in the same month I began working for Alan. 

     The Alliance included more than one hundred environmental, civic, social, and labor organizations.  Janet, was our energizer bunny with an uncanny knack for PR, organizing and strategy, and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of energy..  Her focus was campaign strategy, working members of the Legislature, gathering public support through clever publicity stunts and events, media relations, and organizing activists.  She left policy development to the Alliance’s Legislative Director, Lew Reid and his newly hired colleague at their San Francisco law firm, Ray McDevitt.  Ray, a bright, unassuming, enthusiastic young lawyer took the lead drafting or rewriting proposed sections of our bill   In late spring 1972, it was Ray and I who sat down one Saturday morning and actually drafted language that became the Coastal Initiative, Proposition 20, which created the Coastal Commission.  Ray, to this day, has not received the credit he richly deserves for his role in preserving the California coast. 

It was shortly after the Dunlap meeting that I picked up the first rough draft of a coastal bill and went to work.  My initial task was to gather ideas.  I met with countless activists from throughout coastal California.  I also spoke with policy wonks and experts on government organization, land use law, ecology, and legislative construction.  Everyone seemed to have their own idea of what should be included.  I collected ideas and, in consultation with Lew and Ray, drafted a bill that Alan introduced in spring 1971 as AB 1471. 

In 1968 when Jim Pardau and Ed Z’Berg, a Sacramento Assembly Member and Chair of the Assembly Natural Resources Committee, organized the first legislative hearings on the need for coastal legislation, it was Ellen Stern Harris, a Beverly Hills matriarch, who first suggested the State should create a statewide coastal commission modeled after the San Francisco BCDC.  Alan, a member of the Committee, liked the idea and agreed to become the lead author of legislation sponsored by the environmental “community” to create a Coastal Commission.  Ellen was later appointed as a founding member of the Coastal Commission by Speaker Moretti and elected its Vice-Chair.

While we carried the Alliance’s bill in 1971, which I considered the purist version, a competing measure was introduced by the Planning and Conservation League, led by a group of headstrong, egotistical, turf jealous directors from Southern California.  This is where the “cat” metaphor comes in because it appeared the environmental community did not have its act together and was racing off in different directions.  PCL naively played right into the hands of the opposition who were all for the divide and conquer strategy gratuitously given them by the enviros.  We were forced to oppose PCL’s bill, a bad bill on the merits, while trying to pass the Alliance legislation AB 1471. 

As part of my assignment I traveled the coast getting to know it better and meeting activists from the deep forests of Smith River country on the Oregon border to the wide plain sweep of Imperial Beach in the South.  I met many remarkable people, some of whom became lifelong friends.  Activists are usually free thinkers holding strong opinions on how things should be done.  I found most of them passionate about our cause, interesting, willing to learn and consider advice even from a newbie to coastal advocacy.  I gathered evidence to strengthen our case in Sacramento and helped Janet enlist volunteers for her many public outreach and media events.  I discouraged lone rangers and pushed the rather obvious notion that our strength lay in numbers, organization and unity.  The greatest threat to the coast was ignorance and apathy.  Education was the answer to the former and activism the latter.  We represented a true grassroots effort and knew public support would be our greatest hammer.  This was an era before e-mail, cell phones, computers and other social society organizing aids we are familiar with today.  The telephone, word of mouth and snail mail were our primary means of communication.  Because my own roots were grounded in social activism I had learned well the quirky nature of the activist world.  Tricks of this trade include an ability to listen, reigning in egos, ignoring individual off-putting oddities, eschewing judgmentalism, lowering expectations, empathy, communication skills, and a big heap of patience.  There were few activists I didn’t get along with.  After all, we were embarked in common cause and I didn’t have to set up housekeeping with any of them.

The coast was spectacular and even more diverse in geography, natural and human history, beauty, mystery and magic than I had imagined.  I travelled slowly, stopping often just to let the essence of Nature’s artistry seep into my bones.  I had seen some but nearly not enough of coastal California.  I have many favored times of day along land’s end in early spring:  Cool clear, even foggy mornings, warming piercing light mid-day, and waning winds as a kaleidoscope of colors pull the falling light of sunset over the far horizon where imagination takes me on mythic travels.  And then there’s the canopy of countless stars pulled up from the darkening East like some gossamer blanket hitched to the sun coming down, sinking below the Western sky.    How primal, grand and awe evoking such visions of an endless sea edged by rugged land, in perpetual motion, pushing, pulling, pulsing with winds, tides and currents hiding a deepness we were just beginning to understand.  My bonding with coast and ocean on these forays to the front forged forever links never to be broken.    Saving the sundown coast became my cause akin to a crusade for god – only this god was a goddess called Gaia. 

After several seacoast trips I became convinced we were in league with angels and if we played it smart, not shrill, we could get this done.  After PCL came on board, having abandoned their misguided diversionary mission, things were looking up and we gained momentum.  We moved AB 1471 through the Assembly to the Senate where we felt confident of securing an affirmative majority vote in the Natural Resource Committee. Alas, we didn’t take into account corruption and perfidy.  On the fateful final day in Committee, one of our “promised “votes was a no-show.  I learned that the missing Senator, James Wedworth a bicycle seller from Los Angeles, had decided on his way to Sacramento that he needed to take delivery of a purebred colt at his foothill ranch.  The horse was purportedly given him by a racetrack lobbyist who also happened to represent several big oil companies who opposed our bill. I got maps of the Senator’s spread, gave them to the media, and waited in desperation.  We ran out of time and lost the bill by one vote.  The errant solon went into hiding for several days.  The evening news showed images of a pick-up racing toward the ranch only to come to a sliding dusty stop when its occupants saw TV crews waiting outside the gate.  His double-cross made every evening newscast and daily paper.  The excuse he gave when he surfaced some three days later was “he had personal obligations and rent to pay!”  That incident alone gained us notoriety and new editorial support, giving us invaluable momentum we used effectively the following year. 

Janet went into immediate attack mode, as only Janet could, making clear the coast was not for sale and could probably not be saved by a Legislature riddled with corruption.  Then she lobbed the first big shot across the establishment bow and announced that the Alliance would try again next year and failing in the Legislature would turn to the people and the initiative process.       

Part 2 (To be continued)
People Power - Making it Work