SAN DIEGO — After serving 4 1/2 years, California Coastal Commission Chairman Thomas W. Gwyn resigned Tuesday--the first in a series of membership changes that will substantially alter the makeup of the powerful agency that oversees development along the state's 1,100-mile coastline.
Gwyn, an appointee of Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), said during a break at his last commission meeting that he is stepping down because of new responsibilities as communications director for the Port of Oakland.
His departure leaves in doubt who will head the 12-member panel that meets monthly to decide the fate of issues involving development or protection of the coastline.
The commission is scheduled to consider the election of a new chairman and vice chairman this morning. A spokeswoman for Brown said a replacement for Gwyn will be announced today.
Gwyn, who was elected chairman in February, 1990, at his first commission meeting, declined to predict who will be his successor.
But with the balance of power in the Assembly still uncertain after last week's election apparently erased Democratic control of the lower house, Brown's latest appointment could be short-lived. The Speaker names four of the coastal commissioners.
Regardless of what happens in Sacramento, the panel will see a number of new faces. In addition to Gwyn, at least three other commissioners--Huntington Beach Mayor Linda Moulton-Patterson, Port Hueneme City Councilman and veteran coastal Commissioner Dorill B. Wright and San Diego County Supervisor Leon Williams--will be stepping down after retiring or losing elections.
"I don't remember another time when there (was) so much turnover on the commission," said Commissioner Madelyn Glickfeld of Malibu.
In an interview, Gwyn expressed concern that the strong Republican showing in the election might weaken the commission's commitment to coastal protection.
The 53-year-old chairman said he believes the commission has been responsible in trying to balance development. He said the commission, created by voters in 1972, discourages egregious development projects from even being proposed. Yet, it is difficult to know how to assess the condition of the coast today, Gwyn said.
"I look at the differences between Northern and Southern California. There is a lot more development in the south," he said. "The community appears to have accepted a greater degree of development in the south. . . .
"In the north, the culture is much more protective of the natural resources."
Gwyn predicted that the state's continuing population growth "is going to put pressure on both the natural and man-made resources of the state."
Looking back on his tenure, Gwyn said, "it was a sad day" for the agency when former Commissioner Mark L. Nathanson pleaded guilty last year to soliciting almost $1 million in bribes from property owners and Hollywood figures with business before the commission. Nathanson is serving a federal prison sentence.
Gwyn said he feels sorry for Nathanson, whom he considers a friend and someone who helped engineer "my election as chairman."