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Staff turmoil shakes powerful California coastal agency

In this file photo, visitors are few at Carbon Beach, the so-called
In this file photo, visitors are few at Carbon Beach, the so-called "Billionaires' Beach," on the first day of the opening of a new access route in Malibu, Calif., Tuesday, July 7, 2015. The California Coastal Commission, which opened a third public path to Carbon Beach, has broad sway over issues in the state's coastal region. The commission chair has notified the executive director he could be fired, setting up a battlefront between environmentalists and developers.
Nick Ut/AP

The powerful California agency that manages development along the state's fabled coastline could oust its top executive, setting up a battlefront between environmentalists and developers who clash over projects large and small.

California Coastal Commission Chair Steve Kinsey notified executive director Charles Lester in a letter released Wednesday that the panel will consider whether to fire him next month. Lester has held the post since 2011, and no reason was given for the proposed dismissal.

However, environmental activists suspect some commission members want to push out Lester to make way for management that would be more welcoming to development.

Susan Jordan of the California Coastal Protection Network said Lester's ouster would leave the agency in turmoil and intimidate its staff.

The Commission, created by voters in 1972, in the early years of the national environmental movement, has broad sway over issues in the state's coastal region. It's been involved in issues from care and breeding of killer whales at San Diego's SeaWorld marine park to proposed housing developments and beach access in celebrity enclaves.

"It's not just about the homeowner who wants to build on the bluff. We are talking about billion-dollar projects," Jordan said.

Commission spokeswoman Noaki Schwartz said in an email that Lester was not available for comment.