Governor appoints new coastal commissioner from Ventura County

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Major changes could be afoot on the powerful, 12-member California Coastal Commission panel.

By John Howard / Capitol Weekly

Brian Brennan, a Democrat and 14-year veteran of the Ventura City Council, has been appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown to the California Coastal Commission. Brennan, who will fill the vacant commission slot representing the south central coast, is the first representative from Ventura County since 1995.

Brennan’s appointment comes in the midst of internal political turmoil at the commission. A number of appointments are set to expire by next month, and political observers in the Capitol are wondering whether Brown and Democratic leaders will make major changes to the panel.

Brennan replaces Pismo Beach City Council member Mary Ann Reiss, who had served for four months as an alternate to K.H. ‘Katcho’ Achadjian of San Luis Obispo, who was elected to the state Assembly last November. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a lame duck, appointed Reiss to succeed Achadjian. The move raised eyebrows at the time because lame duck governors usually allow their successors to make appointments. There was speculation that Schwarzenegger was trying to influence the selection of the next chair before he left office.

Sara Wan of Malibu, in a surprise vote by her fellow commissioners, was appointed chair of the Coastal Commission in December. She served as chair once before. There had been speculation prior to the vote that Vice Chair Mary Shallenberger was due to become the chair. It was move that was blasted by former Sen. John Burton, current chair of the California Democratic Party, whose scathing letter, released publicly, accused Wan of snatching the position from Shallenberger.

The chair is only one vote among 12, but the position also carries influence over staffing and the commission agenda, and serves as the point person for communications to the public.

Local government appointees to the Coastal Commission are selected according to a process that is unique in the state, in which the locals formally offer the governor a list of their recommendations, a list from which the governor must choose four people. If he chooses no one, he must submit another request for recommendations and the process starts again.

The locals have 45 days from receipt of the list call to provide names to the governor. The governor then has 10 days to respond.

The 12-member commission has four appointees each from the governor, the Senate Rules Committee and the Assembly speaker. In each group, two members must be selected from the public, and two from local governments.

In effect, half the members hail from local governments, the other half from the general public.

In January, Brown sent a letter to the south coastal officials asking for recommendations. The position represents the counties of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura. The appointee must be chosen from a list of locally elected officials.

Brennan, who was born and raised in Ireland, has served as Ventura mayor from 2003 to 2005, and he has been a member of the Ventura City Council since 1997.

Brennan was the general manager of Chart House Restaurants from 1976 to 1997, and was chair of the Ventura Visitor and Convention Bureau from 1994 to 1997. He has been a member of the Ventura Chamber of Commerce since 1989, and is a founding member of the Ventura County chapter of the Surfrider Foundation.

The Coastal Commission position does not require Senate confirmation and the compensation is a $100 per diem.

Knowles Adkisson contributed to this story.