SACRAMENTO — Burbank City Councilwoman Mary Lou Howard, who last month was planning to resign from the state Coastal Commission, now is seeking to lead it.
At a meeting in Marina del Rey on Wednesday, the commission deadlocked 6 to 6 on the choice of a new chair. It was unable to decide between Howard, who is backed by panel environmentalists, and David Malcolm, a Chula Vista city councilman who Howard's supporters say is aligned with pro-development forces.
Commission spokesman Jack Liebster said Thursday that, as a result of the impasse, the issue is scheduled to be reconsidered at a meeting next month in San Francisco of the commission, whose job is to protect the state's coastline.
David Hart, a Sierra Club lobbyist, said Thursday that the leadership fight spotlights a struggle between environmentalist- and developer-oriented factions on the closely balanced 12-member commission.
Hart said, "The outcome of the race for chair will be a clear indication whether or not the commission is going to be almost completely in the pocket of the development community or it's going to continue . . . its relatively good record of fairly applying the Coastal Act."
In an interview, Howard said she became a candidate only after Robert Franco, an environmentalist commissioner from Del Rey Oaks, faltered in his bid for the chairmanship. "He didn't know if he could get the seventh vote, and that's where my name came in as an alternative," Howard said.
Howard was reluctant to criticize Malcolm. Pressed to contrast herself and Malcolm, Howard conceded: "I am more of an environmentalist, and I guess that's really where the difference comes in. Malcolm is probably more developmentally oriented than I am."
Malcolm, a real estate developer, could not be reached for comment.
Although environmentalists regard Malcolm as pro-development, two reviews in 1987 of his voting record on the commission agreed that he was often a swing vote. The reviews were conducted by a national environonmental group and by a fellow coastal commissioner appointed by Gov. George Deukmejian. Others who have observed him say he often casts pro-environment votes on Northern California issues and pro-development votes on issues in Southern California, particularly in San Diego County, his home.
Infighting on the commission has intensified in recent years. In 1987 Howard was appointed by the Senate Rules Commission only after a lengthy search for an environmentalist who could win Senate confirmation.
In a surprise move, Howard last month told fellow commissioners that she was resigning, citing personal problems involving the death of her husband and her desire not to take on additional responsibilities.
At the time, Howard was recovering from a fractured pelvis suffered in a fall at home.
Howard said she changed her mind about leaving the commission after learning "it would take several months to have someone appointed to my seat. I felt that was unfair to the commission, so I'm staying. . . . I am more committed than ever to the commission." Howard said she plans to stay on the commission until her council term ends in 16 months. She has said she will not seek reelection.
Further, Howard said, if she had resigned, it would have "left a commission that was very pro-development. And I didn't feel that was fair or right. I had an obligation to fulfill my term."
Since the Senate Rules Committee never received Howard's resignation, it was not official. The Rules Committee shares responsibility for commission appointments equally with Gov. George Deukmejian and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco).
Howard's on-and-off resignation comes as Brown and the Senate Rules Committee must fill two other commission vacancies. The Rules Committee must replace environmentalist Michael Wornum, a former assemblyman who is mayor of Larkspur. Wornum has served as commission chairman.
Meanwhile, Brown is interviewing candidates to fill the slot of Charles Warren, another former assemblyman in the environmental camp.
At a press conference on Thursday, Brown said he is seeking to appoint "somebody who will keep me out of trouble" and "who is absolutely devoid" of any conflicts of interest.
Also contributing to this story were Times staff writers Ralph Frammolino in Sacramento and Carlos Lozano in Burbank.