In an effort to quell a brewing controversy, the California Coastal Commission on Friday announced that it has asked federal officials to delay a ruling on whether the panel can join in crafting habitat conservation plans.
The proposed delay until late December would allow California Resources Secretary Mary Nichols time to analyze the Coastal Commission's role in shaping the plans, which allow developers to build on sensitive habitat in exchange for setting aside large chunks of land elsewhere.
The request comes a day after the commission voted in Oceanside to push for a place at the planning table with federal and state agencies, despite the misgivings of California's top environmental official.
Thursday's action triggered a hailstorm of criticism from groups such as the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Building Industry Assn. and the Agricultural Council of California.
"The controversy that has been swelling is blowing this issue out of proportion," commission Executive Director Peter Douglas said Friday to explain the shift. "Intentional misrepresentations are creating an atmosphere of hysterics here, and leading to very clouded thinking."
"I think it's a very prudent move," Nichols said.
At issue is the commission's role in shaping habitat conservation plans. Douglas said requiring consultation already is within the commission's jurisdiction under federal law.