SACRAMENTO — A controversial bill that could block a drive to incorporate Marina del Rey has abruptly gained a new author and turned into a legislative hot potato.
First, Sen. William Lockyer (D-Hayward), who pushed the bill through the Local Government Committee and onto the Senate floor last month, dropped his proposal. In a statement issued Monday, he cited "in-house wrangling."
Then, lobbyists for the Marina del Rey Lessees Assn., a major backer of the bill, persuaded Sen. Joseph Montoya (D-Whittier) to step in to carry the measure. But Montoya said he was uncertain when he would seek passage of the bill.
Since taking over the bill last Friday, Montoya said, he has been approached by two colleagues who are concerned about the measure. One, Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys), who purchased a portion of two marina leaseholds last year, expressed concern that the bill could hurt him politically, Montoya said. And Sen. Diane Watson (D-Los Angeles) was equally disturbed that Montoya was carrying a bill that affects her district.
Lockyer introduced the measure early this year, proposing that areas containing more than 50% public land be barred from incorporating because they would not have an adequate tax base to support city services.
Although the bill does not name the marina, Lockyer has talked about how the measure could short-circuit cityhood for the 803-acre enclave of county-owned land wedged on the coast between Venice and Playa del Rey.
At the heart of the issue is whether marina residents will be able to continue their cityhood drive after next Jan. 1, when the bill would take effect if passed by both houses of the Legislature and signed by the governor. Cityhood supporters have gathered more than 1,400 signatures of registered voters in an attempt to place the issue on the ballot.
Sen. Watson, who has not taken a stand on marina incorporation, has been a leading opponent of the measure. In the past she has said, "To impose a state solution to a local problem is unjust."
This week, she also said that she believes Robbins is involved in the bill. "I think he still has his hand in it," she said. "Yes I do."
But Robbins repeatedly has denied any role in the proposal.
In an interview Tuesday, Robbins said he has been told "by at least one colleague that he was urged to vote for the bill on the basis that to do so would score points with Robbins." The San Fernando Valley lawmaker insisted that he has not been involved in lobbying for the bill and said he had underscored the point to his colleagues. "I felt I wanted to go one step further and not only say I'm not involved but I'm abstaining," and he emphasized, "I really mean it."
Robbins added, "I've fully complied with disclosure laws that indicate I have an interest. I've made it clear I'm going to abstain."
Last year, Robbins and partners, including Los Angeles lawyer Doug Ring and his father, Selden Ring, bought leaseholds for Deauville and Bar Harbor marinas valued at $36.9 million.
The Rings have hired Jerry Zanelli, a Sacramento lobbyist and former executive officer of the Senate Rules Committee, to watch out for their interests in Sacramento. Zanelli also represents other marina landlords.
But in a recent interview Doug Ring insisted that the family had not talked to Robbins about the bill. "And I honestly believe that to do so would be inappropriate," Ring said.
Lockyer indicated tha he dropped the bill partly because of a desire to avoid the appearance of a potential conflict of interest on his part.
In a prepared statement, Lockyer said that his decision resulted partly from assertions in Northern California newspapers "that this bill is related to campaign contributions," which he flatly denied
But the assertions have "clouded any serious discussion of the bill," he said in his statement.
He declined to be interviewed by The Times, but his statement went on to say that another reason for his action was that "it has been suggested that it is somehow a violation of protocol to carry a bill impacting another member's district. . . . The question itself has caused a certain amount of in-house wrangling."
Montoya said he had no such qualms. The Whittier lawmaker said that he agreed to carry the proposal, in part, as a favor to Zanelli, with whom he attended UCLA in the 1960s.
Montoya said he is not familiar with all the issues surrounding the bill. But he said he is concerned that if the marina becomes a city, the county would lose millions of dollars in leasehold payments.
He added, "I'm not interested in seeing it as a rent control area."
Montoya was referring to arguments by the bill's proponents that cityhood supporters want to incorporate to impose rent controls on marina apartments.
However, cityhood backers have downplayed rent control, instead focusing their arguments on the right to control their community and not be told what to do by the state.