For decades, she’s been the unsung hero of California’s coast


When Californians dig their ft into the sand and marvel at a seascape uncluttered by Miami superior-rises or a Jersey-like shore, some might know to thank the state’s difficult-fought record of coastal security.

A unique legislation, willed into existence by the individuals of California, declared many years ago that the coastline is a public treasure that should be shared by all. Entrusted with this mission is an uncommon authorities agency that has waged lots of epic battles against the state’s most powerful and rich.

One female has been there considering the fact that the incredibly beginning.

Viewed as the coronary heart and brains of the California Coastal Commission, Susan Hansch has retained the pulse of the agency beating for much more than 4 many years. She is the lesser-known fifty percent to the a person in charge, the longtime deputy to the various gentlemen who have taken the helm.

Have a query that simply cannot be answered? Talk to Susan. Not sure about some arcane piece of legislation? Call Susan. She’s the intestine look at, the a person who dots the I’s and catches all the blind places. A business but pleasant drive of purpose, this petite 2nd-in-command has stood up to some of the major oil organizations and the most demanding controversies.

Now, at the conclude of the thirty day period, right after 46 many years at the fee, the agency’s longest-serving guardian of the coastline is ultimately transferring on. She tried using to retire years in the past, but there generally appeared to be an additional crisis that could use her clever counsel.

“Susan is the most essential human being to the coastline you have possibly in no way listened to of,” stated Assemblyman Mark Stone (D-Scotts Valley), a former coastal commissioner. “She is completely the unsung hero of the coastline.”

Hansch, 68, initially fell in adore with the California coast when she was in the seventh quality. Her father, a Navy person turned English instructor, was fed up with shoveling snow on their small farm in Illinois and moved their spouse and children to Gilroy, Calif. The eldest of 4, Hansch remembers her mother building the 40-minute drive in excess of the hill toward Santa Cruz and the sea.

On summer season days when temperatures would break 100 levels, a working day by the ocean would deliver so considerably pleasure. Each individual time she returned, the coast would amaze her in some new way — the waves would be different, the shades, the tiny shorebirds that emerged some times but not other folks.

By 1972, Hansch experienced joined a fervent movement to help save the coastline from an unimaginable potential: Unchecked improvement, shorelines managed by the rich, devastating oil spills like the a person in Santa Barbara that horrified all those people who beloved the shore.

In 1972, activists bicycled from San Francisco to San Diego in help of Proposition 20, a voter initiative that in the long run led to the passage of the Coastal Act and the institution of the California Coastal Fee.

(California Coastal Conservancy)

Although fellow classmates at UC Santa Cruz drummed up guidance with headline-grabbing strategies, Hansch, who was learning biology and environmental experiments, busied herself with collecting signatures, paperwork and whatever else was desired to get a measure on the ballot that would safeguard the shore.

The scrappy brigade faced extreme odds, with big builders and oil corporations pouring immense electric power and funds into preventing the voter initiative. But after months of phone phone calls and an impassioned get in touch with for action, the people today of California permitted Proposition 20. The coastline, voters agreed, belongs to anyone.

Peter Douglas, the greater-than-everyday living visionary whose title has turn out to be synonymous with coastal safety, received to work crafting the state’s Coastal Act. Signed into law in 1976, the laws declares a bold established of principles that harmony environmental defense and the interests of the persons. It enshrined a person of the nation’s most highly effective land-use organizations: the California Coastal Fee.

“It’s these kinds of a gorgeous piece of laws,” stated Hansch, who labored on the coastal plan as a volunteer, then a pupil assistant, for $3.03 an hour. “I was just like ‘Wow, this is amazing, the public cares about the coastline adequate to get this carried out.’”

Susan Hansch, left, at a meeting in the 1970s with Charlotte Higgins, the coastal commission's press officer at the time.

Susan Hansch, remaining, at a assembly in the 1970s with Charlotte Higgins, the coastal commission’s press officer at the time. Hansch joined the commission as a pupil volunteer and is the agency’s longest-serving personnel.

(California Coastal Commission)

Hansch’s sharp head and devotion stood out, going her quickly to junior staffer, then an analyst for the device managing offshore oil difficulties. In 1985, Douglas, who had grow to be the agency’s govt director, tapped Hansch to lead the power unit — a position other people assumed would be presented to a person.

With her dazzling-colored blazers and Farrah Fawcett hair, she pushed by means of all the electricity plays, the lawsuits, the builders who hated currently being told what to do by a lady scarcely 5 toes tall. She led with a tranquil intensity and took the bullets for the community at a time when the federal governing administration sought to open just about the total state’s shoreline to oil drilling.

“I would be freaking out, we all felt so vulnerable, and Susan — Susan would just keep serene,” said Linda Krop, chief counsel at the Environmental Protection Middle, a nonprofit dependent in Santa Barbara. “She did everything she could to uphold the integrity of the establishment and to uphold its integrity in the eyes of the public.”

It was a demanding time for the fee, whose spirited independence confronted the continuous ire of those in electric power. Douglas held no punches in upholding the Coastal Act, and Gov. Jerry Brown infamously identified as the personnel “bureaucratic thugs.”

When Gov. George Deukmejian arrived into office environment in the 1980s, he slashed the commission’s price range so considerably that half the personnel experienced to be permit go. In people very same several years (not compared with the most new four), the Reagan administration attempted to strip the agency’s power to block offshore oil functions in federal waters.

“We were being totally underneath assault,” stated Mark Delaplaine, who joined the fee in 1976 and retired previous yr. “The battles that we fought in the early times taught us so substantially. It describes how Susan was capable to execute a great deal of the afterwards matters … She’s obtained a great deal of braveness and perseverance and Jesus, a great deal of endurance.”

Susan Hansch was featured in an 1988 issue of a journal published by the Assn. of California State Supervisors.

Susan Hansch’s work on offshore oil difficulties was highlighted in a December 1988 problem of Today’s Supervisor, a journal released by the Assn. of California Point out Supervisors.

(California Coastal Commission)

Following a especially tense assembly with a major utility corporation, Hansch remembered Douglas offering her some challenging really like on how to endure this male-dominated planet:

“You can be sturdy, you can be forceful, but really don’t enable your emotion exhibit. You are going to lose your electricity,” she recalled him stating.

So she armed herself with facts, not fervency. Douglas, whom she misses each individual day, persuaded her in 1999 to turn out to be his chief deputy. The initial female to just take on this role, she now manages a workers of 182 individuals with a warmth that she wished her youthful self had identified how to harmony.

Through the extensive times and towering stacks of spending plan papers, she nevertheless remembers birthdays and tends to make time to personally decide up an intern from the airport. Lots of recognize how significantly coronary heart she puts into teaching a new and numerous generation of coastal guardians, and now, a putting selection of women are calling the photographs at the commission.

“Susan has been these kinds of a essential power and critical advocate for environmental justice and pursuing racial equity,” stated Sumi Selvaraj, who was recruited by Hansch in 2015 as a graduate scholar and is now the agency’s environmental justice supervisor. “She has a great way of pinpointing people’s strengths and encouraging them recognize their prospective … She’s like the fee mom.”

The company is without a doubt loved ones. Her daughter, Rachel Wright, remembers coloring in the corner of Hansch’s office environment as a minor child and speaks these days of commission personnel like they are dear aunts and uncles. Her mother quietly discovered a way to do it all, she mentioned, whether or not it is investing a working day at the tide pools instructing her the scientific names of all the sea animals, selecting up trash on the beach front, completing a master’s degree on weekends or rushing to the neighborhood college just after function for a management coaching method.

The antidote to exhaustion, after all, is not essentially relaxation, one particular of her favorite poets as soon as wrote.

The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.

“I find it pretty incredible how substantially of herself she provides to all people. She is effective 12-hour days … and then she arrives home, she’ll have dinner, and then she would like to chat about all of our times,” Wright stated. “She also has like a million good friends that she keeps up with all the time.”

Hansch’s partner, Richard Wright, laughed when requested if he’d recognized he was marrying the coastal commission. He speaks of his wife with a tender admiration.

“What’s the objective? Help save the coastline,” mentioned Wright, a CPA who shares Hansch’s really like for scuba diving and hiking throughout distinctive sections of the earth. “It has generally been a quiet enthusiasm of: What is the finest for the coastline?”

Susan Hansch enjoys going for long walks along the coast of Half Moon Bay, where she lives with her husband.

Susan Hansch enjoys going for very long walks together the coast of Half Moon Bay, where she lives with her husband.

(Richard Wright)

That purpose has been examined more than the many years, as a result of the whiplash of distinct administrations and hundreds of commissioners — the determination-building 50 percent of the agency. Appointed by the governor and state legislative leaders, these voting associates occasionally obstacle staff and occur with their individual agendas. A person commissioner was sentenced to jail for soliciting bribes.

Hansch also guided employees by means of the darkest of times: the political pressures to hearth Douglas, getting rid of their beloved leader in 2012 to cancer, then the dramatic firing of his advisable successor, Charles Lester, which a lot of noticed as a electrical power shift from an agency that fiercely answered to no one but the Coastal Act.

“She has been our rock and our guiding light,” said Jack Ainsworth, who was appointed govt director in 2017 amid the turmoil.

She took treatment of not just the agency, but also the public — devoting time to instruction applications that inspire far more persons to fully grasp the urgent troubles of these days. She oversaw the publishing of a quantity of publications loaded with coastal history, maps and beach front access points together the state’s extra than 1,200-mile shore.

Not just one to sit continue to, she has also personally labored on sea degree rise adaptation and other advanced concerns that loom ever greater above the coastline.

In a tribute in December that introduced commissioners to tears, Ainsworth held up a box of tissues as he introduced Hansch’s retirement. His voice cracked: “How do you thank somebody for 46 many years of service and sacrifice for the safety of our coastline and ocean?”

Hansch has not quite processed that she’s leaving. She feels superior about the people at the commission now — they remind her of the young, mission-driven cadre she 1st joined in the 1970s.

There ended up no computers in those early times, she recalled. Studies ended up actually slice and pasted with each other. Now she’s retiring at a time when even the goodbyes should be reported practically as the pandemic rages on.

Searching ahead, she has now volunteered to support the eight employees who have been reassigned to COVID-19 contact tracing (the condition has questioned nearly each company to devote 5% of staff members to this heartbreaking endeavor).

With climate improve looming as “the existential concern that will form all else,” Hansch hopes the fee will continue on to obtain techniques to safeguard what coastal habitats are remaining — and be certain that accessibility to the shore is genuinely equitable to all.

She paused. The fact sinks in as she ponders how else to fill her newfound time.

The words and phrases of one more beloved poet, Mary Oliver, occur to intellect — phrases that have guided young staff members in excess of the a long time as she brought them on board. Her eyes crinkle into a smile. It’s now her transform to answer this concern anew:

Inform me, what is it you prepare to do
with your just one wild and important everyday living?





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