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California Coastal Panel Hires Interim Executive Director

The California Coastal Commission has appointed an interim replacement for executive director Charles Lester, whose ouster has ignited controversy over the direction of the panel.

California Coastal Commission

California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester is shown in this undated photo.

The panel on Wednesday chose senior deputy director Jack Ainsworth to head the agency's staff until a permanent replacement is found. Ainsworth has been on the commission staff for 27 years.

"I consider this meeting the start of the next 40 years of the commission," said Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey, the panel's chairman. "How we proceed is important. We need to re-establish our commitment to the California Coastal Act and rebuild trust."

Ainsworth, 58, of Ventura, has a bachelor's degree in environmental studies and geography from California State University, San Bernardino, as well as a master's degree in geography from University of California, Riverside. He has served as the commission's senior deputy director since 2011.

Commissioners ousted Lester last month on a 7-5 closed-door vote without a clear explanation of why the change was being made and after hours of testimony from dozens of witnesses praising his work and commitment to a coastline open for all.

The shake-up has opened questions about the direction of an agency often caught in the clash between property rights and conservation. The panel has broad sway over construction and environmental issues in coastal areas that include some of the most coveted real estate in the U.S.

Environmental activists suspect some commission members wanted to push out Lester to make way for management that would be more favorable to development, a claim described as groundless by several commissioners last month.

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