It is perhaps appropriate that an effort to unseat Charles Lester, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, might just come to a head in Morro Bay on Feb. 10.
That’s the date when the commission is set to hold a public meeting over so-called “performance issues” that have led, apparently, to an effort by the commission to replace its staff chief.
The effort to unseat Lester has set off a political dust up in Sacramento, where environmental organizations are accusing the development community of pushing its weight around. Gov. Jerry Brown is accused of sitting by while his reputation for protecting the environment is potentially sullied.
But as a small business owner operating on the Central Coast, I’ve got a different view. I’m tired of the incessant fighting between environmentalists who want no growth and developers who want nothing but luxury homes from Mexico to Humboldt Bay.
I think it’s time for the Coastal Commission to do more than just “protect and enhance California’s coast and ocean for present and future generations.” The commission should add to its mission a mandate to protect the coast in a way that also provides for adequate housing for the people who work and live in the coastal zone.
In our region, the Coastal Commission has done some very good work on preserving the Gaviota Coast and much of the Highway 1 corridor in San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties.
But the Coastal Commission also slept while gazillionaires in Malibu and elsewhere were able to largely lock the public out of beach access.
During the past 20 years, the commission has been a contributor to a shocking lack of balance in the jobs and housing equation in many coastal communities. In Santa Barbara, parts of San Luis Obispo County and up and down the Pacific Coast, the balance of affordability and wages is really out of whack.
At the Business Times, we offer competitive pay and put $3,600 a year per employee towards health coverage. Can our employees afford to live in the greater Santa Barbara area? Absolutely not.
Half of our staff commutes from Ventura County or North Santa Barbara County. Others live paycheck-to-paycheck in substandard housing. These are working professionals. Nobody at our company can afford to purchase an average-priced home, based solely on wages, anywhere on the South Coast.
Moreover, we are constantly at risk of losing valuable employees to the public sector where wages are higher. The killer is that pension benefits of the public sector are the only way to guarantee enough pension income to make retirement on the coast affordable.
The spiral of housing costs has forced many middle-class jobs out of the South Coast and made it affordable only to the super rich and the very poor. Public sector and university positions are in demand but, as the public sector grows, the tax base to support it is shrinking.
There is a better outcome possible for the Central Coast. Our world-class manufacturing companies and high-tech firms could really offer a terrific path forward for area residents and college graduates.
With the right mix of housing, we could actually import jobs and factories from higher cost areas in the Silicon Valley and San Francisco. I am not talking about affordable housing but what economist Chris Thornberg calls “housing that’s affordable.”
It will take a new consensus to bring about that change. And part of that change must be to put an end to the theatrics and create a broader mandate for the California Coastal Commission.
• Reach Editor Henry Dubroff at [email protected]