The Real Deal Los Angeles

Bill seeks to ban private meetings between coastal commissioners and developers

State senator introduces legislation to stop ex-parte communication used by developers

May 03, 2016 02:20PM

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State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (credit: caregiving.org, Jen Fraser for California Coastal Commission)

State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson (credit: caregiving.org, Jen Fraser for California Coastal Commission)

“In the halls of justice, the only justice is in the halls.”

This Lenny Bruce quote was cited by the California Coastal Commission’s former general counsel Ralph Faust, a supporter of a new bill that would ban ex-parte communications between individual commissioners and developers.

Introduced by State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, the legislation targets private meetings — whether it’s over dinner or on the telephone. Critics say these gatherings largely serve private development interests, even though community groups and activists can also initiate them.

A L.A. Times analysis of ex-parte disclosure forms found that the majority of ex-parte participants are developers and lobbyists who have a financial stake in the commissioners’ decisions regarding construction permits and approvals for projects along California’s coastline.

Out of the 374 ex-parte disclosure forms filed from January 2015 to March 2016, more than half were with property owners and developers. Some of these forms, which commissioners are required to submit within seven days of the meeting, were filled out by the private parties themselves.

In the same review, the Times found that two developer lobbyist groups accounted for 160 — or 42 percent — of the total ex-parte communications the first three months of 2016. Susan McCabe and her associates had 114, while David Neish and David Neish Jr. had 46.

“Not everybody can wine and dine at the same level,” Faust told the Times. “If you are an amateur, if you are an innocent, you are toast. I have watched this process evolve over the years. I’ve watched it from the inside.”

Opponents of Sen. Jackson’s bill say ex-partes actually encourage public participation and the exchange of information. Prohibiting these private meetings would actually hurt the decision-making process, opponents argue.

“Pretend you are a busy commissioner. You get the staff reports, review thousands of pages and try to understand them in a couple of weeks,” Stanley Lamport, an attorney who represents clients before the commission, said. “It’s hard to assimilate all the information.” [LAT]Cathaleen Chen