Coastal Commission appoints interim to replace ousted director

California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester, pictured here in 2010, was fired from his job by the agency's board on Feb. 10, 2016.
California Coastal Commission Executive Director Charles Lester, pictured here in 2010, was fired from his job by the agency's board on Feb. 10, 2016. California Coastal Commission photo.

In its first meeting since firing its executive director, the California Coastal Commission on Wednesday appointed an interim chief and prepared to discuss the search process for a permanent replacement.

The commission voted 10-1 to appoint Senior Deputy Directory Jack Ainsworth to lead staff until a new permanent executive director is hired.

Commissioner Roberto Uranga was the sole dissenting vote.

In February, the commission fired Charles Lester despite an outpouring of support from conservation groups and staff. The final vote was 7-5.

In accepting the appointment, Ainsworth told the commission that he appreciated their vote of confidence and that he has not decided yet whether to apply to the position permanently.

He said it's been a very difficult month for staff in Lester's absence.

Ainsworth, 58, has been with the commission for 27 years and worked under Lester since October 2011.

“Staff really like Jack,” Coastal Commission spokesperson Noaki Schwartz told KPCC. “He is very knowledgeable on the Coastal Act, is collegial and has an ease with people and has a very incisive wit.”

Married with two children, Ainsworth lives in Ventura and has a bachelor’s degree in environmental studies and geography from Cal State San Bernardino and a Masters of Science in geography from UC Riverside.

The search for a new director is expected to take up to six months.

Activists turned out before the meeting and repeated calls for an ethics investigation into Lester's termination.

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A MoveOn.org petition toward that end has so far gathered 775 signatures.

The commission has said its decision to fire Lester was rooted in questions about his job performance, with some commissioners complaining he left them in the dark on important matters.

This story has been updated.

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