SACRAMENTO — Gov. George Deukmejian has vetoed funds for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy's proposed purchase of a pristine 973-acre canyon that the conservancy fears could be sold to developers if the state does not act quickly.
The deletion of $6 million to buy the Lower Zuma Canyon came as the governor blue-penciled $501 million from the 1985-1986 budget.
The conservancy, empowered by the state to buy land in the Santa Monica Mountains to preserve open space, fared better in other acquisition projects. About $9.5 million in conservancy acquisition funds remained in the $34.8-billion state spending package.
Deukmejian said he felt the $6 million the Legislature had set aside for Lower Zuma Canyon "is needed for higher priority projects."
Sought for Years
The canyon, north of Point Dume in Malibu and about two miles inland, has been sought for years by the National Park Service, which has not had the funds to buy it. The conservancy's territory also includes the hills above the San Fernando and Conejo valleys and Las Virgenes. It would have bought the property with the understanding that the federal agency would purchase it from the conservancy within four years if the money became available.
The National Park Service has made the acquisition of Lower Zuma Canyon--which its officials say has "unequaled recreation opportunities"--its highest priority. It is the only coastal canyon left in its pristine state in Los Angeles County and is one of about 20 sites that the county has designated as ecologically significant.
Assemblyman Gray Davis (D-Los Angeles), who pushed for the conservancy acquisitions, said he was surprised the governor vetoed "an extremely important purchase."
"If we don't seize the opportunity, it might be lost forever as a park," Davis said.
Land Acquired in 1890
The canyon is owned by the Adamson family, who are descendants of the Rindge family, which obtained the land in 1890. Alfred Edgerton, director of legal services for the Adamson Cos., has said that there has been thought of putting a golf course and hotel on the panoramic site.
The federal agency has an option to buy the land until the end of the year.
Joseph T. Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director, said he accepted most of the responsibility for the governor's veto. In selling the idea, he said, too much emphasis was placed on the fact that the conservancy would have sold the property in four years if the federal government could not come up with the money for it. He said he did not adequately convey the importance of preserving the unspoiled beauty.
"We're out in the mountains daily; we assume everyone else knows how beautiful it is," Edmiston said.
Edmiston said there apparently was some hesitancy to help the federal government. He said, however, that the conservancy would have bought the land even if the federal agency did not want it.
Davis and Edmiston said they hope something can be worked out with the governor so the land can be purchased. Davis said he would find out why the governor vetoed the bill with the hope of tailoring a new acquisition bill acceptable to Deukmejian.