Santa Cruz politicos jockey for Coastal Commission seat
Sentinel Staff Report
Article Launched: 04/21/2009 12:00:00 AM PDT

By Kurtis Alexander

SANTA CRUZ — Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, is broadening the search for the next appointment to the California Coastal Commission, a move that puts a handful of Santa Cruz County residents in contention and raises the prospect of a local voice on the powerful state board.

In letters sent last week to supervisors in Santa Cruz, Monterey and San Mateo counties, Bass invites nominations for the seat of Monterey County Supervisor Dave Potter, whose term expires next month.

Though Potter would like another four years in the post, his reappointment to the Central Coast seat will not be renewed as a matter of routine, like it was four years ago.

Bass’ office would not say what credentials it was looking for, only that it was interested in seeing a broad applicant pool.

Already a number of local candidates have begun vying for the appointment. Santa Cruz City Councilwoman Katherine Beiers, Watsonville Vice Mayor Luis Alejo and Santa Cruz County Supervisor Mark Stone are among those who have expressed interest.

“We have some very significant coastal issues here,” Stone said.

The Coastal Commission, which is tasked with weighing in on virtually all statewide development along the shore, will soon have final say on a number of local projects, including Santa Cruz’s La Bahia Hotel and the city-led desalination plan.

Stone is expected to get the nomination from the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors as early as this week.

The 12-member Coastal Commission, which meets a couple of days each month, was created by a 1972 voter initiative seeking greater oversight of the coastline. The Assembly speaker, as well as the governor and the Senate Rules Committee, get four appointments to the board.

Potter, who was first appointed to the commission in 1997, has received mixed reviews for his work.

The Monterey County Board of Supervisors is backing his reappointment, but the environmental community appears less supportive.

The Sierra Club’s latest report card on the commissioners gave Potter a conservation voting score of 13 percent, the second lowest on the commission.

“He is a genuine disaster,” said Aldo Giacchino, chair of Santa Cruz Sierra Club chapter, “and we are very eager to see him replaced.”

Environmentalists point to Potter’s 2007 vote in support of the Pebble Beach Co.’s plan to expand through the Del Monte Forest as evidence of a pro-development agenda.

Potter did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

Santa Cruz City Councilman Mike Rotkin cautioned against supporting an extreme environmentalist for the post.

“We want someone who is consistently protecting the coast but not picking on us because there’s always someone here to support any opposition,” Rotkin said.

The Coastal Commission, in recent years, has panned an initial plan for a bike path through Arana Gulch as well as a conference center on West Cliff Drive.

State Assemblyman Bill Monning, who represents most of Santa Cruz and Monterey counties, has chose to remain on the sidelines during the nomination proceedings and has not endorsed a candidate.

The three counties represented by Potter’s seat have until the end of May to submit nominations. Bass is expected to make a final decision by June 28.