SACRAMENTO — A lobbying drive by Cabrillo Marine Museum volunteers, led by a Long Beach woman, has been credited with helping to torpedo legislation they said could have hurt operations, especially fund raising, at the educational and recreational complex on the San Pedro shoreline.
Volunteers peppered legislators with phone calls, letters and personal appeals challenging the need for a bill by Assemblywoman Gwen Moore (D-Los Angeles) to set aside $50,000 to study the feasibility of establishing another coastal museum 25 miles away in Venice to educate the public about the unique resources and history of the California coastline.
The Assembly Ways and Means Committee on June 4 rejected the measure on an 8-9 vote, culminating a six-week lobbying campaign that provided a civics lesson for Cabrillo museum supporters and a few surprises for Moore and her staff.
The central issue was whether a Venice museum would have siphoned off public funds and private donations sought by the Cabrillo museum or whether the two could have peacefully coexisted and complemented one another.
Seashells in a Bathhouse
The Cabrillo museum opened in 1934 when a retired dentist displayed seashells in a seldom-used bathhouse. It blossomed into a Los Angeles city-operated museum that annually draws thousands of visitors, especially schoolchildren, to its marine exhibits, which include tide pools and a shark tank.
The museum relies on volunteers such as Margaret Buchanan of Long Beach to conduct tours and handle other duties. Buchanan, who heads the volunteers' fund-raising efforts, spearheaded the campaign against the Venice museum. She told the committee that the Venice proposal "has the potential to have many similarities to the Cabrillo Marine Museum."
After the committee rejected the bill, Buchanan said the experience showed her that ordinary citizens can successfully battle state legislation. "Maybe it pays to stand up and speak for something you believe in. . . . Before I thought it probably was a losing effort because I'm just one person," she said.
Moore attributed the bill's defeat to the work of Buchanan and the Cabrillo volunteers and the help they obtained from the staff of Assemblyman Gerald N. Felando (R-San Pedro).
Felando, who is not a member of the committee, said he allowed opponents of the bill to use his office but insisted that he did not personally lobby against the proposal.
'A Disaster for Both'
Felando said he that thought Buchanan had a good cause because "two museums that close would be a disaster for both of them."
The measure also was opposed by the state Finance Department, which argued that the feasibility study should compete for state general funds with other proposals through the regular budget process, not through a separate bill.
Moore, who represents part of Venice, said the Cabrillo museum supporters "fear competition where there is none" and asserted that her proposal would not siphon off funds for them.
Moore said she never envisioned duplicating the Cabrillo museum. Instead, her staff had proposed a general outline for what she now calls a "coastal activity center" which would, among other things, show cultural phenomena along the coastline, such as surfing or the contribution of the Navy.
Bob Jacobson, an aide to Moore who grew up in Playa del Rey and who first proposed the idea to her, contended that the two facilities "would have complemented each other." He described the proposed Venice museum as a gathering spot for tourists, who would then be directed to such other spots as the Cabrillo museum.
"Cabrillo does a bang-up job with school kids" but offers few attractions to adults, Jacobson contended. "They (the volunteers) achieved their end, but I think they will see it as a Pyrrhic victory."
Private Foundation Sought
Moore last week vowed to resurrect her proposal by helping to establish a private foundation to study the feasibility of building the Venice museum. If the study shows the Venice proposal is worthwhile, Moore said, she will solicit funds from the Legislature next year.
At the same time, the Cabrillo museum is seeking money to expand its programs.
Several years ago the museum's aging building was replaced by a new, $2.9-million complex. At least $1.6 million of the cost came from state tideland oil funds. The museum has an annual budget of about $300,000 from the city and another $90,000 or so raised each year by volunteers.
Susanne Lawrenz-Miller, Cabrillo's associate director, said the museum has planned another 20 major exhibits and the expansion of teaching programs. She said that, along with some new construction, these programs would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million.
Museum officials were caught by surprise in April to learn that the Assembly Natural Resources Committee had approved the bill, Lawrenz-Miller said. The volunteers feared that as they launch a fund-raising drive they might face competition from another nearby museum.