California Coastal Commission has first female executive director

Kate Huckelbridge. Courtesy California Coastal Commission.

Kate Huckelbridge, Ph.D, 47, has become the first woman to lead the California Coastal Commission in its 50-year history. She presented her first report as executive director of the agency at last week’s monthly Coastal Commission meeting, focusing on photos of recent storm damage up and down the California coast.

She succeeds previous Executive Director Jack Ainsworth, who retired this month after serving in that role since 2017 and spending his entire career at the agency.  

Huckelbridge last served as the commission’s senior deputy director and has been with the agency since 2009 in a number of different roles, including senior environmental scientist and deputy director of the Energy, Ocean Resources & Federal Consistency Unit. She also served as tribal liaison.

“Dr. Huckelbridge is an exceptional environmental engineer and scientist with years of experience at the commission,” Commission Chair Donne Brownsey said in a prepared statement. “Given the challenges ahead for the California coast, we’re confident that Dr. Huckelbridge is the right leader for these times.”

Born in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, Huckelbridge completed her Bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering at Northwestern University; and went on to earn Master’s and Ph.D degrees in environmental engineering at UC-Berkeley. Her research focused on water quality dynamics and modeling in managed wetland systems. 

Since joining the commission, she’s worked on a wide range of projects that include oil and gas development, power plants, wind energy, and wetland and marine habitat restoration. In addition, Huckelbridge served as a commission representative at the Government Alliance on Race and Equity network.