Retiring CCC Executive Director Leaves Conservation Legacy
BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN
Peter Douglas, the executive director of the California Coastal Commission, has announced that he is stepping down due to health issues.
Douglas is the third executive directer of the coastal agency. As a legislative aide to Assembly member Alan Sieroty (D-Beverly Hills), he co-authored Proposition 20, the Coastal Zone Conservation Act of 1972, which established the Coastal Commission, and helped to organize the grassroots campaign that led to its landslide passage by California voters on Nov. 7, 1972.
Following the election, Douglas became a consultant for the Assembly Natural Resource Committee and the Select Committee on Coastal Protection. He co-drafted the California Coastal Act, which was enacted by legislature in 1976 and permanently established California's coastal management program, with an emphasis on conservation and access. Douglas left the legislature in 1977 to become the Coastal Commission's chief deputy. He was appointed executive director in 1985.
Douglas was born in Berlin, Germany, during the turmoil and destruction of WW II. His biography on the Coastal Commission website states that he "sees himself as a very fortunate survivor who is no stranger to adversity and conflict."
As the coastal agency's executive director, he faced plenty of conflict, fighting developers, lobbyists, political interests and calls from Gov. George Deukmejian to disband the commission.
Always accessible to the public, one of Douglas' last acts as executive director was a letter to the editor of the Malibu Surfside News in response to comments in a letter from a resident about public access and the mean high tide line.
Douglas says he is a devote believer in Joseph Campbell's advice that the way to live one's life is to follow your bliss. His bliss, he says, as well as his passion and avocation are and will continue to be environmental stewardship.
"I am proud of every new public accessway along the coast," Douglas wrote in his farewell comments. "Whenever I go to those places, like East West Ranch (Cambria), Pebble Beach, the Monterey Bay multimodal bike path, it just makes me feel good knowing that people are still able to have the access to enjoy their coast. And I think of all the things we fought for that could have been privately held development but are now public parklands, like Tolowa Dunes State Park, Tomales Bay State Park, Garrapata State Park, Sea West Ranch, Malibu Bluffs, and Crystal Cove. None of those places would be what they are today if not for the Coastal Commission."
"I think the California coast is one of the greatest repository of untold stories. People have to understand, it's like all relationships. You can't take our relationship with the coast for granted, because it took a lot of sweat, blood and tears to preserve it so we have what we have today. These things didn't just happen. The coast is what it is because a lot of people worked really hard and sacrificed to protect it. And if we want it to be there for our children, we have to keep fighting to protect it. In that way, the coast is never saved, its always being saved."
Observers say that whether it continues to be saved will depend heavily on who is appointed to replace Douglas.
Lobbyists are reportedly already pushing for a replacement who is more development oriented. And observers say that a power struggle earlier this year over who would be the next chair of the commission, which ended with Malibu resident and longtime Coastal Commissioner Sara Wan being replaced on the panel, may have been related to the issue of who would have a major say in appointing a new executive director.
Douglas, who is battling cancer, says he plans to spend more time with his family, enjoying the environment he has fought to preserve. "I'm looking forward to continued spiritual and intellectual growth in the time I have left," he writes. "Making the most of that time, spending time in my churches, the mountains, the deserts, the river valleys and the coast, and spending more time with my family, friends and especially my grandchildren. I am lucky to have this opportunity."