Apologies for taking so long to follow-up with you... I must admit that we are all still a bit in shock over the enormity of what happened last week.
The final trudge leading up to the Coastal Commission meeting was brutal. During the final week, we learned that the TCA were making accusations against surfers to both the media and the commissioners - of all things claiming that the phrase “Kooks Go Home” was racist. Unbelievable!
The night before the meeting, staff gathered in our CEO Jim’s office and outlined the various scenarios on a big dry-erase board. Our most optimistic calculations had us holding at best three commissioners in support of our position, four opposing our position and four swing votes (with one, or possible two votes abstaining). At that point, we were “hopeful” to squeek by with a single vote, or even push for a tie, which would have gone in our favor.
As well, while we were hoping to turn out at least 1000 supporters, we also knew that getting people down to the meeting on a Wednesday would be difficult.
Needless to say, I don’t think any of us got any sleep that night.
We rolled up onsite Wednesday at the crack of dawn to set up. By 8:00 a.m. several busloads of union members and laborers, paid by the TCA, showed up and began filling the hall. I’m not going to lie – it was a bit intimidating to see 400 burly dudes walk off a bus fronting attitude. However, minutes later the first busloads of our supporters began arriving…and arriving…and arriving…and arriving. Nine busloads in all!
By 10:00 am, over 2500 volunteers had arrived – including throngs of activists from Surfrider Foundation’s San Diego, South Orange County, Newport Beach , Huntington Beach, Long Beach, South Bay and Malibu chapters, several busloads of students from High Tech High’s San Marcos and Point Loma campuses, a large group of kids from Imperial Beach wrangled by Serge Dedina and the crew at Wildcoast, various supporters from our coalition partners, supporters from local Native American tribes, and in an incredible show of support and solidarity – over a dozen buses from our surf industry partners!! In fact, the crowd was so large that the Fairgrounds staff had to fire up the shuttles just to transport people from the overflow parking area back to the meeting site.
You could feel it in the air – something special was happening. The media has since branded Wednesday’s hearing as the surf industry’s “Woodstock” – a moniker that we’ll happily accept, given that for many of us, this was our first real taste of participating in a large scale grassroots movement.
The energy continued to build throughout the morning, as people continued to arrive – packing the Fairground’s Wyland Hall. What a stoker it was to see surfing legends Peter Townend, Shaun Tomson, Mickey Munoz alongside guys like Taylor Knox, Greg & Rusty Long, Colin McPhillips, Josh Baxter and others – all right there at the front of the crowd. Big ups to brother Sal, who drove down just to show his support, before heading back up to make his evening broadcast for E!
Then at noon, something amazing happened. Nearly the entire contingent of laborers filed out of the building and left… Apparently the TCA had only paid them for the morning!
However our supporters were just starting to dig in – and spent the lunch hour massed in the plaza, where they listened to an impassioned speech by Surfrider Foundation CEO Jim Moriarty, thanking them for being there and encouraging them to keep up this fight – no matter what the outcome.
(We need to take a brief commercial pause to give special thanks to Pod and the crew from Rusty, Chuy and the crew from Firewire, Scott & Sarah from Body Glove, and everyone else who pitched in product for our free activist raffle and costume contest which kept our supporters stoked throughout the day!)
Back inside the meeting room, both the TCA and the opposition presented their cases. At 4 p.m., Elected Officials were allowed to make comments. Not surprisingly, the TCA loaded the dais with various Orange County city councilmen and women, most of who conveniently sit on the TCA Board. In a mind-numbing marathon-like drone that could only be compared to a congressional filibuster, the officials spoke…and spoke…and spoke – repeating one another’s tired party line ad nausea. Sitting in the crowd, you could literally see the Commissioners eyes glazing over. The only thing that made it tolerable were the two activists in the crowd that managed to figure out that by positioning their handmade signs just right, they could frame the speaker’s head with the word “LIAR” next to it on the live webcast that was being streamed out over the internet. It was definitely one of the more humorous moments of the day… At 7:30, the Commission Chair Patrick Kruer decided enough was enough and decided to call time on them.
The meeting reconvened after a short dinner break and the public was finally given an opportunity to give comment. Despite the fact that each speaker was only given two minutes, there were several incredible speeches – including an incredible performance by SIMA’s Dick Baker, who reminded the Commissioner’s that our coastal resources fuel a $7.2 billion industry, which in turn fueled an even larger network of vendors and suppliers and created tens of thousands of jobs within the local community. Then, in a stunning move of political savvy, Save Trestles supporters – sensing that the commissioners were growing wearisome – spontaneously decided to cede their time back to the commission, so that they could move directly to vote. For nearly three minutes, audience members filed silently past the dais. POWERFUL!
At 10:00 p.m. the Commissioners began their deliberations. Commissioner Burke was the first to speak, and indicated he would support the toll road. Then Commissioner Larry Clark weighed in – opposing the toll road. Commissioner Kram supported the toll road, followed by Commissioner Wan, who opposed it. That made it 2-2. Then came what was for many of us, the highlight of the evening… In what could only be described at the most embarrassing public dressing down I’ve ever seen, Commissioner Steve Blank recalled TCA CEO Tom Margro to the dais and proceeded to dismantle his entire argument piece by piece.
After some final comments by Commissioner Schallenberger, the issue went to vote. One after another, the Commissioners spoke – No, No, No – until finally, at 11:20 pm – 14 hours after it began – the California Coastal Commission voted 8-2 to against the proposed 241 toll road!!!
We cheered. We hugged. Some of us even shed a few tears… It was a cathartic moment of validation that even now, nearly a week later, still seems like a dream.
While it’s not over yet, last Wednesday’s victory was an important battle for us. To say that we couldn’t have done this alone is an understatement. This is something that all of us – from our legions of volunteer activists, to our coalition partners (NRDC, Sierra Club, EHL, etc.), to our industry supporters, to the person reading this message – can be proud of for the rest of our lives.
It’s been a tough fight these last few years. Looking back now, I am reminded of a quote:
“First they ignore you… Then they mock you… Then they fight you… Then you win.” - Gandhi
Thank you all for your continued support,
Your pals at the Surfrider Foundation