Union-Tribune Editorial
Show him the door

Overreaching by coastal panel’s Peter Douglas should lead to ouster

2:00 a.m. May 17, 2009

The welcome final approval by the San Diego regional water board may not be the last hurdle that the proposed Carlsbad desalination plant must clear. Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission, wants one last stab at killing the project.

It is not enough for the commissioners to restrain Douglas. They must replace him with an executive director who abides by the limits of his authority and honors the commissioners’ decisions instead of undermining them.

Poseidon’s desalination plant, essential to San Diego’s water future, is hardly the first project Douglas has assailed. It is, however, a prime example of his frequent overreaching and sly tactics.

Unable to stop the plant outright, he has delayed it inordinately in any possible way. He has forced Poseidon either to pay for studies done on his staff’s behalf or wait years more for a permit. He has injected himself into the deliberations of other regulatory boards whose decisions he disliked. He has lobbied their staffs to dissuade their boards from approving the plant ““ all after the Coastal Commission overruled Douglas’ recommendation not to approve it.

Yet the desalination project survives, forcing Douglas’ last-ditch effort to derail it on grounds already discredited: that Poseidon amend its coastal permit to increase its wetlands restoration because of an error corrected last year. That demand could not only push the limits of the project’s affordability. Further delay could give sympathetic politicians time to appoint new commissioners of like mind to imperil the plant.

Unfortunately, Douglas retains the support of some commissioners despite a rebuke from the highest court in the land for interpreting the coastal protection law too expansively. He can count on environmental zealots thronging commission meetings to protest projects despite their wide public support. Over more than 30 years on the commission staff, 24 as executive director, he has successfully counted on friendly politicians to keep him in his post.

Any other panel formed to conduct the public’s business would have long ago replaced an executive director who arrogated to himself the powers over decision-makers and residents that Douglas arrogates to himself. The California Coastal Commission should replace him, now.