SAN FRANCISCO — His election as chairman of the California Coastal Commission just four days after being appointed to the panel is a chance for the embattled group to get a fresh start, university administrator Thomas W. Gwyn said this week.
Gwyn, assistant chancellor for public service programs at UC San Francisco, was elected Tuesday on a 7-5 vote by a commission that has been stalemated over the choice of a chairman. The decision has taken on added importance because the commission has been so evenly divided between environmentalist and pro-development factions.
Some environmentalists voiced concern about Gwyn's election because they said he was supported by commissioners regarded by them as pro-development and they are unfamiliar with his background.
But Gwyn, who was attending his first commission meeting, sought to calm their fears, maintaining that he shares "the commitment of this commission to protecting the 1,100 miles of California coastline."
Gwyn said he is "concerned about the environment," adding that his initial view is that more needs to be done to prevent oil spills such as the recent American Trader tanker accident off Huntington Beach. Among his environmental credentials, Gwyn, a former legislative staffer, cited his service on the board of Friends of the Urban Forest, which plants trees in San Francisco.
He declined to speculate on whether the commission will be more development-oriented under his chairmanship. "That will unfold over the next several meetings," he said.
Commissioner Madelyn Glickfeld of Malibu and several other commissioners sought to delay the vote. She said she was bothered by the swiftness of the action because "I just shook hands with him (Gwyn) five minutes ago."
After his election, Gwyn immediately began to preside over the meeting, receiving procedural pointers from Commissioner Steve MacElvane of Morro Bay, who was elected vice chairman.
The commission split 6 to 6 on a new chairman in January. Mary Lou Howard, a Burbank city councilwoman, was backed by commission environmentalists, while David Malcolm, a Chula Vista city councilman, was backed by pro-development forces.
Meanwhile, the Senate Rules Committee named Marin County Supervisor Gary Giacomini to the commission and Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco) tabbed Gwyn, 48, a longtime friend. In making the appointment, Brown noted that Gwyn is only the second black to serve on the panel.
In addition to his own vote, Gwyn was backed by four appointees of Gov. George Deukmejian, a longtime commission critic, and two of the Speaker's other appointees, Mark Nathanson, a Beverly Hills real estate developer, and Malcolm.
Ann Notthoff, project planner with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said she was "not prepared to pass judgment on (Gwyn) just because he was elected by the pro-development forces," but called his selection troubling.
Howard contended that "this whole thing was set up by Mr. Nathanson and the Speaker. It looks like they have been successful in changing the balance of the commission" to being "less environmentally sensitive."
Nathanson scoffed at that suggestion, saying his was just "one vote out of 12." A spokesman for Brown also shrugged off the complaints.
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.