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Green Party leader Ross Mirkarimi named to Coastal Commission

By Mike Feinstein

SAN FRANCISCO - Ross Mirkarimi, twice elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, was appointed in March to the 12-member California Coastal Commission, one of the most powerful public agencies in the state - making Mirkarimi the holder of the highest office for a California Green.

"Mr. Mirkarimi brings much experience in grappling with complex land-use decisions in San Francisco. I look forward to him bringing this expertise to his work on the Coastal Commission" said State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), Chair of the Senate Rules Committee, when he appointed Mirkarimi.

The mission of the Coastal Commission is to "protect, conserve, restore, and enhance environmental and human-based resources of the California coast and ocean for environmentally sustainable and prudent use by current and future generations."

Mirkarimi's appointment was a strong statement in terms of this balance, with the Commission gaining a new strong voice in favor of public access, affordable housing, public transit and a clean and healthy environment in the coastal zone.

"This is one of the strongest land-use bodies in the country. It's safe to say that the `beach-head politics' deliberated here could serve as a bellweather for U.S. policy on issues pertaining to our response to climate change, environmental/maritime degradation and energy independence" said Mirkarimi upon his appointment.

"From the perspective of a sensible environmentalist and/or a progressive, the score card optics of the Commission over the last ten years is not good. As the newest commissioner, I'll do my best to change it."

California has 840 miles of some of the most beautiful coastline in the world. At the same time, there are incredible strains and pressures on it. The overwhelming majority of the state's population lives within 50 miles of the coast, and the state has several major ports, commercial fishing facilities, offshore petroleum and gas development, refineries liquefied natural gas facilities, electrical generating facilities and extensive coastal-dependent development.

To address this tension, California voters passed Proposition 20, The Coastal Initiative, in 1972 with 55 percent of the vote. It established the Coastal Commission for four years. Then in 1976 the commission was made permanent as an independent, quasi-judicial state agency by the Legislature through adoption of the California Coastal Act of 1976.

Part of what makes the Commission so powerful is that in pursuit of that mission, it holds great sway over land use decisions near the
coast. Specifically the Commission addresses "development activities,"which are broadly defined by the Coastal Act to include construction of buildings, divisions of land and, perhaps most significantly, activities that change the intensity of land use or public access to coastal waters.

The coastal zone, which was specifically mapped by the Legislature, covers an area larger than the State of Rhode Island, and includes areas in 15 counties and over 110 cities. On land the coastal zone varies in width from several hundred feet in highly urbanized areas up to five miles in certain rural areas, and offshore the coastal zone includes a three-mile-wide band of ocean.

Of the Commission's twelve voting members, four each are appointed by the Governor, the Senate Rules Committee, and the Speaker of the Assembly. Six are locally elected officials and six are appointed from the public at large.

Mirkarimi was chosen as the representative of the North Central Coast region, which includes Marin, San Francisco and Sonoma counties. Mirkarimi was also nominated by the Boards of Supervisors of all three counties, as well as the California League of Cities nominating committee.

In San Francisco, Mirkarimi's record as supervisor has been broad and impressive. In a little over one term, he's made great progress fighting for accountable community-based policing and violence prevention programs, tenant protections and housing reparations for local African-American and Japanese-American populations due to misguided redevelopment.

He authored the nation's first mandated law on private company reimbursement for commuters using transit, the nation's first law banning plastic bags and the nation's strongest municipal climate change protocol. And in a first for progressive San Francisco, he authored a law furnishing dedicated housing for LGBTQ and Homeless seniors.

Mirkarimi's Green involvement goes back to 1985, attending the first local Green organizing meetings in the Bay Area. In 1990 he helped co-found the Green Party of California and played a major role in the successful 1990-1992 ballot drive. In 2000, he was the California coordinator of the Ralph Nader/Winona LaDuke presidential campaign.

Among several other `firsts', in 2004 Mirkarimi became the first U.S. Green elected under Instant Run Off Voting, winning in District 5 with its 3,000 Greens and 20,000 Democrats. In 2007 he was easily reelected to a second term, at the conclusion of which he must step down because San Francisco has term limits.

Mirkarimi replaced fellow Green Matt Gonzalez in District 5, who was elected in 2000 and chose not to run for re-election. It was Gonzalez who introduced IRV within the Board and worked hard along with numerous Greens for its successful passage on the March 2002 ballot.

Mirkarimi's Coastal Commission term is for two years, ending in 2011. That's also the year of the next San Francisco Mayoral election and Mirkarimi is often mentioned as a potential candidate. While he has not committed to running, if he did run and were elected, it would be the largest U.S. City in which there is a Green mayor.

In this first Coastal Commission meeting he fought hard but lost on a 7-4 vote against an effort by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Southern California Edison to overturn the Oxnard City Council's denial of a proposed natural gas-fired peaker power plant there on Mandalay Bay, and allow the construction of the first new coastal power plant in California in more than 30 years.

"This was a clear case of environmental racism that will particularly negatively impact the local Latino community," said Mirkarimi. "A small city like Oxnard that has two power plants, a toxic waste site and three landfills doesn't need more dirty industry in the public's name."