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Name: Douglas, Peter
Current Position: Previous executive director

Nearly a decade after principal authorship of the law that created the California Coastal Commission, Peter Douglas started a quarter-century reign as its leader. Douglas was the executive director through six administrations, a hard-charging conservationist who battled offshore oil drilling and coastal development while seeking public access to the shore.  

Douglas was born in Berlin, Germany, and immigrated to the United States as a child in 1950. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology from UCLA in 1965 and a law  degree there in 1969. He moved overseas for a few year before returning to accept a job on the staff of Democratic Assemblyman Alan Sieroty in 1972. While on staff, he helped draft the legislation that created the Coastal Commission in 1972, as well as the California Coastal Act of 1976.

While helping write legislation to protect the California coast, he began a lifelong interest in the environment. Douglas told the Los Angeles Times in 2001, “The coast is never saved. It's always being saved. The job of environmental stewardship of the coast is never done. It's never dull, and it's never done.”

He was narrowly selected as executive director of the Coastal Commission in 1985 and over the next 27 years survived, by his count, 11 organized efforts to oust him.

He counted among his victories: the thwarting of numerous efforts to increase and extend oil and gas drilling in coastal waters; an increase of public access to places like Tomales Bay in Marin County, Garrapata in Big Sur and Crystal Cove in Orange County; rejection in 2008 of a toll road through the San Onofre State Beach; and rejection of a liquefied natural gas terminal off the Ventura County coast; and the scaling back of development at the Hearst Ranch.

Douglas’ conflicts with wealthy coastal landowners, developers and energy corporations helped earn him the enmity of Republican legislators and more than a few Democrats. During Douglas’ tenure, the commission had its budget cut and its powers challenged in the U.S. Supreme Court

Douglas was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2004 and a month after being declared cancer-free in 2010 was diagnosed with lung cancer. He retired for health reasons in 2011, announcing that his deputy, Charles Lester, should succeed him. He died in April 2012.


Peter Douglas, Champion of the California coast, Dies at 69 (by Paul Rogers, San Jose Mercury News)

Peter M. Douglas Dies at 69; California Coastal Commission Chief (by Elaine Woo, Los Angeles Times)

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