If you think the buildup to the La Bahia vote last week was intense -- it's nothing compared to the aftermath.
Although Coastal Commissioner Mark Stone was just one vote against La Bahia, he's the one who is now the target of considerable anger from Santa Cruz mainstream progressives. Consider, for example, that no sooner did he announce his intention to run for the Assembly than strong opposition sprung up from an unexpected source -- from Santa Cruz City Councilwoman Lynn Robinson. Rarely has support flocked to the side of a candidate so quickly. Even Neal Coonerty, Stone's "colleague" on the county Board of Supervisors, quickly rescinded his endorsement of Stone and embraced the candidacy of Robinson.
But the aftermath is about way more than an upcoming election. There are two bigger impacts:
1. The future of the Santa Cruz progressive movement. For years there's been a behind-the-scenes battle between the business-oriented environmentalist group and the no-building-anywhere-anytime wing of the movement. That split is now apparent to all.
2. The role of the Coastal Commission itself. Till now, the agency has been seen as a protector of the coastal area, a kind of "it's all good" commission that's the only protection against evil developers. But now, that role has to be questioned after two extremely questionable rulings: the La Bahia and the blockage of a damn bike path through Arana Gulch.
A bike path -- or for that matter, a mid-size hotel in the Beach Area with plenty of other motels around -- are hardly major developments. Still, the Coastal Commission in each case left reasonable people wondering if they haven't gone beyond sound environmental decision-making.
The problem is that the Coastal Commission is a highly politicized body that pretends not to be. For example, a tremendous amount of political pressure came from a labor union that has waged a long battle with the two partners on the hotel project: Barry Swenson Builders and the Santa Cruz Seaside Co. But check the transcript of the Coastal Commission hearing last week: union issues were never discussed. But they were there in the background -- and you can bet that commissioners -- including Stone -- knew it.
There was no purely environmental reason to reject the La Bahia. You can bet that there were other reasons -- and some of them were never discussed.
A large number of card-carrying, environmentally aware Santa Cruzans are fit to be tied. This vote on La Bahia won't be forgotten soon.