SACRAMENTO — Though stalled briefly by gubernatorial campaign politics, a bill that would help clean up polluted Harbor Lake in Wilmington has passed a joint legislative committee and appears headed for the governor's desk.
The bill, by Assemblyman Dave Elder (D-Long Beach), would place the lake under the jurisdiction of the state Coastal Conservancy, which plans to spend up to $500,000 to help improve water quality and restore marsh areas at the popular recreation and wildlife area.
The measure had sailed through both the Senate and the Assembly. But when it returned late last week to the Assembly, which had to agree to Senate amendments, Republicans rallied against it.
Assemblyman Ross Johnson (R-La Habra) noted that the lake is within the city of Los Angeles and said he had noticed that Mayor Tom Bradley, a Democrat, has boasted of balancing the city's budget in his campaign against Republican Gov. George Deukmejian
Johnson said he wondered if that had been accomplished with state money. Then he and 23 other Republicans voted against the bill, blocking immediate passage and sending it to a joint legislative committee. That committee, with little discussion, returned the bill on Tuesday to the Assembly and the Senate, where action is expected today.
The committee made the bill effective Jan. 1 instead of immediately upon being signed by the governor. That change allows legislative passage by a simple majority vote, not two-thirds as required for a so-called urgency measure.
Johnson and Elder said they think the bill will now pass the Legislature. A spokesman for the governor said he has not taken a position on the legislation.
Johnson said in an interview that his opposition has been intensified because "Tom Bradley is having an awful lot of fun bragging about his fiscal management of the City of Los Angeles." He said that as a matter of principle he opposes spending state money to clean up a city-owned park.
Elder argued that the Coastal Conservancy would bring to the restoration effort an expertise that the city does not have, as well as funds set aside for such wetlands projects.
The Coastal Conservancy plans to restore the rare urban freshwater marsh below the Harbor Lake dam and to work with several other agencies to remove pollutants that drain from a maze of channels and sloughs into the lake itself.
The city of Los Angeles asked the conservancy to help improve Harbor Lake. But only part of it is included in the state Coastal Zone, so a law was needed to allow the conservancy to undertake the project.
The conservancy cannot begin its work until the city Parks and Recreation Department completes--probably by January--a comprehensive plan for maintaining the lake as a recreation area and wildlife habitat.
"Harbor Lake is one of the last remaining freshwater marshes in the Los Angeles area, and to that extent it's very important to us," said Reed Holderman, a conservancy project analyst.
The lake is also a stopover for migratory birds and a nesting site for the least tern, which has been declared an endangered species by state and federal agencies, Holderman said.
The city has sought conservancy help for reasons other than money, said Susan Prichard, the Harbor City field deputy for Los Angeles City Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores.
"The funding is important, but it's the designation (as a conservancy project area) that's really going to help us," she said.
Prichard hopes that, as an unofficial umbrella agency, the conservancy can repeat the success it has had elsewhere in pulling together diverse agencies with conflicting interests.
Already, the jurisdictions of eight local, state and federal agencies overlap at the 100-acre lake, the centerpiece of Harbor Regional Park, a 231-acre recreation and wildlife area south of Pacific Coast Highway and west of the Harbor Freeway.
Among the interested parties are the city Parks Department, the county Health Services Department, the county Flood Control District, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, the state Water Resources Control Board, the state Department of Fish and Game, the state Health Services Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers.
A 15-member Harbor Lake advisory board, which has representatives from the eight agencies, meets monthly, but its recommendations are not binding. And sometimes the efforts of one agency have been contrary to the goals of another, said Prichard.
"Right now we're the cat chasing its tail," said Prichard, "and we're hoping the conservancy will break the cycle."
David Attaway, an environmental planner for the city parks department, which provides general maintenance at the lake, said he also welcomes the conservancy as a tested mediator of interagency disputes in wetland areas.
"You don't find wetlands like this in large metropolitan areas any more," he said. "It gives urban residents a chance to experience that environment right in their back yards."
A mosquito problem at the lake shows how different interests can create conflicts among agencies, Attaway said.
Mosquitos are multiplying because tules and other plants have grown so thick that mosquito fishcannot penetrate breeding areas, and spraying by abatement workers is impossible, he said.
The tules cannot simply be chopped down because they are an important part of least tern's foraging area, so a balance in constantly being struck by involved agencies, he said.