The old adage about March roaring in certainly proved true this year. Surfrider staff and volunteers attended and gave testimony at the Coastal Commission meeting in Santa Monica, partook in advocacy training at the chapters conference in Cambria and brought the coast to the Capitol for the 11th annual Ocean Day in Sacramento.
Coastal Commission drama continues
A month after the Commission disregarded the input of thousands of Californians to fire Executive Director Charles Lester, tensions from that decision continued to run high. Social justice and environmental advocates held a press conference calling for more transparency and inclusion in the upcoming hiring process, and a contingent of protesters from Venice waved signs accusing Commissioners of attempting to sell off California's coast.
The drama didn't stop outside. Fed up with the criticism, Chair Steve Kinsey cut off public comment before speakers had finished having their say. He wasn't able to stop fellow Commissioner Wendy Mitchell from delivering an out-of-order lengthy defense of the firing, however, despite several attempts.
An even more shocking exchange took place between Commissioner Mark Vargas and a member of the public who approached him during a break to ask a question about comments Vargas had made in Spanish. Instead of choosing to expand upon his statement, he tossed a few F-bombs at the constituent, essentially telling her to go away. Instead, she recounted the incident during Friday's public comment, which prompted a sorry-not sorry apology from Vargas.
In the midst of all this, Commissioners appointed longtime Deputy Director Jack Ainsworth as interim executive director and, happily, upheld the public's right to access the beach in Rancho Palos Verdes. Residents of the area tried, with support of the city, to change street parking from public to private, which would have effectively kept visitors from being able to easily utilize the beach, trails and amenities in the area. As staunch supporters of beach access, Surfrider representatives were pleased to see Commissioners support staff's recommendation against the proposal.
In related parking/access news, the next Coastal Commission hearing takes place Wednesday, April 13 through Friday, April 15 in Santa Rosa and is expected to bring out hundreds of people determined to protest State Parks' request to start charging parking fees at previously free lots. Our Sonoma chapter is part of a coalition fighting the fees – see the website for how to help and expect updates throughout the next few weeks.
Nearly 100 volunteers representing almost all of our 20 California chapters joined with over a dozen staff members at Camp Ocean Pines to share ideas, get inspiration, learn from each other and generally strengthen our powerful activist network.
The weekend featured workshops on Advocacy 101, Coastal Preservation, Ocean Friendly Restaurants, Plastic Pollution and more. If you're a member of Chapternet, you can check out the presentations – and if you haven't yet perused the photos on our Facebook page, please do!
The unity and inspiration continued into the following week. Each year, Surfrider helps coordinate dozens of ocean, coastal and social justice advocates descending upon the Capitol to educate our legislators and their staff about issues confronting California's coast.
Those issues include preventing ocean pollution, climate change adaptation, the success of the state's network of marine protected areas, the crisis at the Coastal Commission, improved prevention and response regarding oil spills along the coast, and more. A full overview of the issues and related bills can be found here.