Our off beat journalist and writer C.M. Stassel (author of Lucy the Elephant) has recently sent me a two part story he wrote up about the California Coastal Commission battle that took place last week and is of deep concern to all of us now. Of course, if you DGAF about protecting Cali’s coastline, this story is still chalk-full of sardonic humor and characters such as the Canadian Trump supporter or salty Morro Bay fisherman… enjoy and be ready for Part 2 coming later this weekend…
The Coast of California Under Siege Pt. 1
There was no sense to his madness, this tiny man dancing around the car, periodically hammering at the metal shell of this old Eighty-eight. “You just got to hammer it out, boy,” he said, looking to me in between swings. “Hammer it and you’ll find that sweet spot,” he said, eyeing his next target. “Like life.”
I had made tentative plans to meet someone in a bar at three o’clock. I doubted she would show, but I had to get out of Costa Mesa and this was a good excuse. The meeting was on the other side of the bay in Corona Del Mar at a little bar where people went to drink and discuss the heightened gall of the coyote population in Newport Beach.
Little dogs were being picked off left and right, they proclaimed. Some of the old-timers wanted authority to shoot on sight. Deputize the whole damn city, they screamed! Sounds just like what we need. I say let ‘em at it. “Those Democrats are taking our guns!” they cry, as they beg for permission to shoot animals in the middle of streets in broad daylight. Oh yeah, I forgot.
I was able to convince the old man to let me use the Eighty-eight. It was dirty-white and hammered to hell and clanked as it rolled, but sturdy like a tank. The woman I was supposed to meet claimed to possess sensitive information regarding Banning Ranch and the Coastal Commission. I was interested, but my mind was still in Idaho, where I had been two days earlier and just barely missed the chance to interview John Kerry. I wanted to ask him what he thought of Peyton Manning and Hassan Khomeini, Ayatollah’s grandson, being excluded from the Iranian election panel. Peyton Manning wasn’t excluded from the panel, so I guess he could he still run, but I was more concerned about him going against the Patriots. I thought John might have some greater insight and I wanted it. I attempted to infiltrate the bar where he was allegedly singing karaoke, but his security detail was quick to swarm. They were a bit rough, but kind to let me go. Apparently they shut down the entire place so that John could sing a few Dixie Chicks songs in peace. John has a nice voice, I could hear it from the street. I thought about tunneling into the bar, but abandoned the idea quickly. No shovels. Instead, I went to an art gallery with free wine and Stella Artois. And expensive art. I touched the art, but no one saw. I was trying to make a point. I think touching the art was art in itself. No one saw.
Back to the road: the Eighty-eight was trash and so was the old man, but I wasn’t worried about that. It was mid-afternoon and the top was down because it was seventy-two and sunny. The middle of winter. We, Americans, were on the brink of what might be the most explosive Presidential election we’ve had in years – we still are. Until the next one, of course. There’s a tendency to overestimate the power that one man can bring into the White House. There’s always the Redeemer and the Demon, that’ll never change. The real ransom happens when they gang up. As a gang, they tend to behave like coyotes in Newport Beach. One way or another you eventually become what you hate. Old women have scolded me for arguing such points.
“You just don’t know, honey,” this old lady who I see at the grocery store, the booze aisle, has said to me many times before. She wears enormous gold earrings, and they weigh down her useless ears, stretching them like taffy. I’ve seen similar ears on an aging punk from Santa Ana who wears those tribal hoops. Sadistic beauty. Or numb cartilage. Like a shark. Aging punk and perfumed booze-hound. “You’re young . You don’t understand,” she’d say. Maybe she’s right, but I don’t really care. And I don’t feel that young. Hanging out with old people does that to you, though – makes you feel young, which is a good thing. It can be soothing, and Lord knows we need soothing, at least I do. Although, they hold their alcohol like high schoolers, which can be a problem, and they seem to care only about the Redeemer and the Demon. Gangs go by unnoticed for them. Anyway, she seems to have her own news sources that cook up her facts just the way she likes them. Well-done and over-salted. “Cook your meat, sweety,” she says when she sees me buying a steak, “or you’re get the salmonella!” It all seems very convenient. Enough with her, though, she’ll be dead soon. Her words, not mine.
Back to the road: Priuses and scooters battled for supremacy, while cyclists, without even so much as a cautionary glance over the shoulder, wobbled in and out of their designated lane. One cyclist, large fellow, was riding hands-free and throwing middle fingers at a middle-aged graphic designer wearing a beanie. I could tell he was a graphic designer by the sticker on his bumper: “Friends Don’t Let Friends Use Comic Sans”. Stay away from this monster, I thought. I need to get away from all these animals. It was only a matter of time before the whole thing erupted into some savage fight. These people are sick. I pushed the sweet Eighty-eight as hard as she could go. I had to get to that bar across town before three o’clock or I might miss my mark: a professional woman who claimed to have sensitive information regarding Banning Ranch and the Coastal commission. Something about collusion and conspiracy to wipe out the entire population of long-tailed weasels and ornate shrews. I think it really had to do with Charles Lester, current director of the California Coastal Commission. Something was going down, and he was going to be the goat. I feared the worst.
It’s called the Quiet Woman, the place where she wanted to meet. They serve mashed potatoes at all hours of the day, so I ordered myself a plate with a beer when I got in. I sat at the bar, which was dark and clean, glasses hanging upside just above my head. I grabbed one and started to fill it up myself, before the bartender made a run at me. Unhand me, you extremist, I screamed. He eventually got hold of the mug and calmed down, but only after I explained that I was from Europe. They do things differently over there, man, I said. That’s when the businessman at the end of the bar with a briefcase, sipping on some lemonade concoction, said to me, “You from Europe?” I wasn’t about to get into it with some travelling salesman. I was there for the story, for the conspiracy. The collusion!
“Who’s asking?” I answered as the bartender slid me a mug full of beer.
“I’m Canadian,” he responded, moving into the light, revealing his pale white skin and straight brown feathery hair. “You running away too?” he asked excitedly, then standing up and moving closer. I cowered away, preparing for a fight, but he just politely took the seat next to me, then carefully put out his hand in greeting. I refused to touch the thing, telling him instead how sick and contagious it was whatever I had. Stay back. The Canadian believed it without further question.
“So you’re running away, too, then?” he asked again.
“Not sure. Should I be?”
He snuffed at the question, then sipped from his pink cocktail. “No, you’re right in the sweet spot, brother.” I didn’t know what he meant. I didn’t know there was a sweet spot.
“What are you running away from?” I asked.
He laughed and glared at me as if I should have known. “All that goddamn democracy and kindness and political correctness,” he exclaimed, slamming down his glass in what was the first emotional display of force I’d ever seen from a Canadian outside a hockey rink. “I can’t stand it. I want the truth and I want it plain. I want walls built and guns and security, and I don’t want to have bite my tongue, brother! You feel me, I can tell,” he said, using his heels to lift himself out of his seat, getting antsy and drunk. “I don’t want refugees or diplomacy or more ‘talking’,” he said, heating up. “I want action and I don’t care what it is! I want Trump!” he shouted, taking a swig in toast. “Donald Trump, goddamnit. That’s why I’m here. I’m here for Donald. I’m here for skyscrapers and hotels and condos and gold! I want to live in a country with that kind of leader.”
I’d been hearing more and more about people who would up and leave to Canada if Trump were elected. “Nearsighted, narrow-minded, bigoted mutant,” is what I’d heard a convicted burglar and jaywalker call him last week. I was up in Sacramento, political country, when I’d heard it. I had gone to a luncheon at a golf course where local politicians hung out. The politicians weren’t saying these things. They were too careful. It was the convict out back who’d been living in the alley for the past six months, surviving off scraps of food and discarded Wall Street Journals.
“But Canada? Isn’t it all peace and maple syrup and hockey?” I asked. I’d never been.
“No!” he screamed, leaning in closer. “There’s no power up there” he added without hesitation.
“I want to feel that power. I want respect. I don’t want peace.”
“I’ve heard people say they’ll go to Canada if Donald is elected,” I answered, hoping to incite a riot.
“Cowards,” he snorted, finishing his glass and signaling for another. “Good riddance. Can’t stand those people. They’re scared of the power. They don’t want respect. They just want to sit around and braid each other’s hair and smoke dope.”
This man was twisted. The cold must have gotten to him.
“Have you heard of the California Coastal Commission?” he asked. My interest piqued. This is what I had come here for. I told him I had and urged him to continue, and to drink up. “Well they’re finally getting rid of it. Finally, we developers are going to be able to build without restriction. The entire coast is going to be developed. It’s going to be beautiful. The first thing to go will be that dump, Banning Ranch,” he laughed, drinking his pink cocktail. “Hey can I get a lime?” he asked the bartender.
“Screw the lime! Tell me more about the Commission. Where is it going?”
“Going? Hah! It’s going straight down the toilet, brother, and hotels are going up, up, up! They’re getting rid of that Lester guy and they’ll put someone else in place. Someone who will let us build all the way to the water’s edge! You’ll step out of your condo and into the water, brother! There’ll be no one to stop development. We can build to the sky, brother!” he hissed with laughter. “This is why I’m here. This is why I left Canada. Canadians are so concerned with preservation and blah blah blah. They let the land dictate them. Not here. Oh no, brother. Here, we dictate the land. We conquer the land and massage it into anything we want. The land works for us!”
Where was my contact? She should have been there, but as I looked at the giggling Canadian in front of me, chewing on a piece of ice and stirring his pink cocktail I realized who she had wanted me to meet. It was this Trump supporter.
“We’re going to build up every inch of land along the coast, from Mexico to Canada!” he screamed. “Manifest Destiny, brother. Louis and Clark! The Trail of Tears!”
On February 10, 2016 there will be a public hearing held in Morro Bay, California to decide the future of Charles Lester’s employment as Executive Director of the California Coastal Commission. The Commission was established by the 1976 Coastal Act, an act signed into law by Governor Brown during his firm term, to protect and conserve the California coastline. I reached out to Lester yesterday, but was unable to reach him. Lester, an environmentally-minded attorney took the helm in 2011. To understand Lester better, it’s wise to look to the man who chose him as his successor, Peter Douglas, who died in 2012. For more than 25 years Douglas, a staunch environmentalist, ran the Commission, advocating for its independence. In 1996, Douglas fought off a very similar attack to replace him with some amorphous invertebrate who would bend and twist in whatever direction developers so chose. He fought off that attack, yes, but the pressures to succumb to narrow interests have gotten stronger, doubling, tripling their efforts, unwilling to see the coastline as anything other than a sexy investment opportunity. The small faction of pro-development commissioners allegedly leading the charge to oust Lester were, ironically, appointed by Governor Jerry Brown. The four term governor may very well destroy the commission he signed into law in 1976. Poetic. Further, it seems Lester has been losing the battle to preserve California’s coast of late.
In December, the Commission approved a proposal by U2’s The Edge to build five mansions over an undeveloped ridge in Malibu. The late Peter Douglas called the plan one the worst he had ever seen. In 2014 the commission approved plans to build a hotel and condominium resort on 40 acres of environmentally sensitive sand dunes in Monterey Bay. Call it what you will, but that’s not preserving anything, except a pool filled with urine and over-sugared resort drinks.
This play, now, looks very similar to the one in 1996. The faction of pro-development commissioners quite literally gave Lester two choices: resign or sit through a public trial in which they would decide his future. Seems Lester called their bluff. Along with thirty-five, conservation-minded former members of the CCC who signed a letter opposing the removal of Lester. February 10, 2016 the spectacle will take place. Charles Lester could use some help. The California Coastline could use some help. Trust me, they’re coming for it. As for those in favor of covering every inch of California coastline in metal, tar, and hotels, I know a bar you’ll like. Ask for the Canadian.
Feb 8th, 2016