Peter Douglas, Calif. coastal crusader, dies at 69

Apr 3, 2012, 10:41 PM

AP Science Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Peter Douglas, longtime executive director of the California Coastal Commission who spent a career fighting to rein in development along one of the world’s most alluring coastlines, has died. He was 69.

Douglas died Sunday at his sister’s home in the desert resort town of La Quinta, about 115 miles east of Los Angeles. He had battled lung cancer and stepped down from the helm of the commission last November because of his declining health.

“He was a remarkable person and a wonderful spirit,” commission spokeswoman Sarah Christie said Tuesday. “His name is synonymous with the coast.”

As a legislative aide in the 1970s, Douglas co-authored a state ballot initiative that created a coastal commission charged with controlling development along 1,100 miles of shoreline. He later helped draft the 1976 Coastal Act, designed to protect and provide public access to the California coast.

Douglas served as executive director since 1985. Under his guidance, the quasi-judicial commission transformed into one of the nation’s most powerful land-use authorities, tackling issues from coastal construction to public beach access to offshore oil drilling.

Last August, Douglas announced he was taking sick leave and planned to retire.

“I’m at peace with it,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “It’s been a meaningful, purposeful legacy.”

Douglas’ tenure was punctuated with showdowns with developers and property owners.

Critics accused the commission of being too narrowly focused and mismanaging its funding by meddling in minor land use issues that should be left to communities. Douglas survived nearly a dozen attempts to unseat him over the years.

Born in Berlin on Aug. 22, 1942, Douglas fled the Nazis with his family when he was a child and settled in Southern California. He earned his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Douglas was known for wearing bolo ties and hiking pants and driving an old, biodiesel Mercedes.

Environmental advocates remembered Douglas in various online postings.

“Every time you spend time at a public beach in California, remember to thank Peter Douglas for conserving our coastline!!” Serge Dedina, executive director of the environmental group WildCoast wrote on Twitter.

Chad Nelsen, environmental director for Surfrider Foundation, wrote in an online tribute: “Peter, your spirit will live on in those fighting to protect our oceans, waves and beaches and will be honored by all who enjoy them.”

Douglas is survived by his former wife, two sons and a sister and brother.


Follow Alicia Chang’s coverage at

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Peter Douglas, Calif. coastal crusader, dies at 69