The California Coastal Commission has deadlocked on the choice of a new chairman, with environmentalists and pro-development members at odds over who should head the panel.
At a meeting last Wednesday in Marina del Rey, the commission split 6 to 6 between Burbank City Councilwoman Mary Lou Howard, backed by environmentalists, and David Malcolm, a Chula Vista city councilman aligned with pro-development forces.
Commission spokesman Jack Liebster said Thursday that the matter will be reconsidered at the group's meeting next month in San Francisco.
David Hart, a Sierra Club lobbyist, said the leadership fight highlights the struggle for control over direction of the 12-member commission, established to protect the state's coastline.
Hart said the outcome of the race will be a clear indication of whether the commission will be more oriented toward developers or will "continue . . . its relatively good record of fairly applying the Coastal Act."
The Coastal Act of 1976 allowed local governments to regulate coastal development by adopting new land-use plans and zoning ordinances. The commission is responsible for approving the local plans.
Howard said she became a candidate only after Robert Franco of Del Rey Oaks, a pro-environmental commissioner, was unable to win a majority of votes 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.
When asked to contrast herself and Malcolm, Howard said: "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.
Under the administration of former Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr., a liberal Democrat with strong environmental leanings, the commission was dominated by conservationists.
With the election of Gov. George Deukmejian in 1982, the balance of power shifted. Deukmejian, who has called for the abolition of the commission, appointed four new members who generally shared his view that land-use planning is best left to local officials. In addition, Deukmejian reduced the agency's budget and staff.
The Legislature's Democratic leaders helped win appointment for several commissioners in the early 1980s who appeared to be more sympathetic to developers than their predecessors.
Howard was appointed to the commission in 1987 by the Democratic-controlled Senate Rules Committee after a lengthy search for an environmentalist who could win Senate confirmation. The Rules Committee, Deukmejian and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) can each appoint four commissioners.
In a surprise move last month, Howard 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.
Howard's husband of 34 years died last March from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. At the time, Howard was recovering from a fractured pelvis she suffered in a fall at her home.
But she changed her mind about leaving the commission, Howard said, after learning that "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."
If she had resigned, Howard said, it would have "left a commission that was very pro-development. And I don't feel that was fair or right."
Howard said she plans to stay on the commission until her Burbank council term ends in 16 months. She has decided not to seek reelection.
Howard's on-again, off-again resignation comes as Brown and the Rules Committee must replace two commissioners who are leaving.
The Rules Committee must replace environmentalist Michael Wornum, a former assemblyman who is mayor of Larkspur. Wornum is the outgoing chairman of the commission.
Brown is interviewing candidates to fill the slot of Charles Warren, a former Los Angeles assemblyman who also is 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 staff writers Ralph Frammolino in Sacramento and Carlos Lozano in Burbank.