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Tri-counties nominate locals for vacant Coastal Commission seat 

Gov. Gavin Newsom is looking for a new Central Coast representative to serve on the California Coastal Commission, and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties nominated a few familiar faces for the position on March 16. However, the vacant seat will almost certainly not be filled before a March 18 Coastal Commission meeting that could determine the future of vehicle access at the Oceano Dunes.

At meetings on March 16, the SLO and Santa Barbara county boards of supervisors discussed their top picks for the South Central Coast seat. SLO opted for Santa Barbara City Councilmember Meagan Harmon, and Santa Barbara nominated Harmon and Santa Barbara County 1st District Supervisor Das Williams.

Although SLO County 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson advocated to put both Williams and Morro Bay Mayor John Headding on the list, conservative members of the board said they couldn't recommend those individuals.

"One of the really driving economic forces in this county is the tourism that is attracted by the OHV park in the Oceano Dunes," 5th District Supervisor Debbie Arnold said at the March 16 meeting. "And for me it is important that we recognize that with this nomination, and try to support someone that has said that they are in support of keeping that OHV park open and operating."

click to enlarge REPPING THE CENTRAL COAST? Groups in SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties have nominated Santa Barbara City Councilmember Meagan Harmon to serve on the California Coastal Commission. - PHOTO COURTESY OF MEAGAN HARMON
  • Photo Courtesy Of Meagan Harmon
  • REPPING THE CENTRAL COAST? Groups in SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties have nominated Santa Barbara City Councilmember Meagan Harmon to serve on the California Coastal Commission.

Harmon, who has now been nominated for the South Central Coast seat by groups in SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties, is a Lompoc native and has served on the Santa Barbara City Council as a progressive Democrat since February 2019.

"As a real estate and land use lawyer, I do understand how challenging it can be to work at the intersection of the Coastal Act and private property rights, and I understand how important it is that we're sensitive to both," Harmon said at the March 16 meeting. "I love our coast. I'm committed to protecting it, but it's also vital that we move beyond entrenchment to call the problems of our time. I wrote about this in my letter, but issues like affordable housing, like job creation, these are connected to the Coastal Commission."

When it comes to the long-running debate over vehicle access at the Oceano Dunes, Harmon told New Times she's not making any promises one way or the other. The Coastal Commission plans to consider the elimination of off-roading at the dunes at a meeting on March 18—likely without a South Central Coast representative.

Harmon won't have a say in that decision, but she said if the Oceano Dunes controversy continues past this spring, she can only assure the community that, if appointed, she'd do her best to listen and learn.

"It's important that commissioners have the conversations, do the research, do the reading, and make decisions based on the realities and facts," she told New Times.

The California Coastal Commission is made up of 12 voting members and three non-voting members charged with regulating land and water use on the coast. All voting members are appointed to the Coastal Commission by the governor, the Senate Rules Committee, or the speaker of the Assembly, and half of the voting members are local elected officials in specific coastal districts. In 2014, former Gov. Jerry Brown appointed former Pismo Beach City Councilmember Erik Howell to the commission to represent the South Central Coast, which consists of SLO, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties.

Howell served on the Coastal Commission until he lost his bid for reelection to the Pismo Beach City Council in November 2020, leaving the South Central Coast seat up for grabs. Once supervisors and city selection committees in the Tri-Counties have all nominated elected officials for the position, the governor may vet and appoint one of the officials nominated, or ask for new nominations.

In Ventura County, the Board of Supervisors nominated Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks, and the city selection committee also nominated Harmon, along with Oxnard City Councilmembers Vianey Lopez and Gabriela Basua, and Port Hueneme City Councilmember Laura Hernandez. The SLO County and Santa Barbara County city selection committees are scheduled to make their nominations on March 18 and 19 respectively. Δ

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