SACRAMENTO — Reversing its vote of the day before, the state Senate approved legislation Wednesday to create a special public agency, which would be controlled by a private company, to oversee the building of waterfront homes and a proposed marina on the Bolsa Chica wetlands.
The Senate's Tuesday vote had convinced the bill's author, Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach), that her legislation had temporarily fallen victim to partisan wrangling over the state budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
The bill fell two votes short of the 21 needed for passage Tuesday, but Bergeson was given permission to bring the measure up for another vote. The Senate approved it on a 28-5 vote Wednesday and sent it to the Assembly.
Bergeson said the difference in the votes was the changed atmosphere in the Senate after Tuesday's passage of the state budget: "It was just free and clear of the forces that prevailed the day before."
Locked in Partisan Battle
Until Tuesday afternoon, Democrats and Republicans in the Senate had been locked in a partisan battle over the budget bill, with Republicans refusing to vote for it in a bid to pressure Democrats into agreeing to a $700-million tax rebate sought by Gov. George Deukmejian.
Sen. Barry Keene of Benicia, the Democrats' floor leader, had engineered Tuesday's defeat of Bergeson's bill. He said Wednesday he had decided to change his vote after Bergeson convinced him that she had done all she could to overcome the objections of environmentalists concerned about restoration and maintenance of the wetlands.
But Keene hinted that the budget battle, which was resolved when Bergeson and three other Republicans joined the Democrats in voting for the state spending plan, was what really had held up Bergeson's legislation.
"We're all in a much better mood now that the budget has been passed," Keene said.
Bergeson's bill would create a special district to govern the early stages of the development, including building $230 million in public-works projects--sewers, water lines, roads and other things--that are needed before the 5,700 planned homes can be built.
Three of the district's five directors would be chosen by the developer, Signal Landmark Co. The others would be picked from the Huntington Beach City Council and the Orange County Board of Supervisors. The three private members would need the vote of at least one of the public members before the district could levy fees, issue bonds or spend money.
Bergeson said her legislation would help the developer and Huntington Beach, which surrounds the 1,600-acre unincorporated parcel, agree on how and when the property should be annexed into Huntington Beach. The bill would take effect Jan. 1 only if such an agreement is in place.
Although representatives of the Sierra Club maintain that the bill does not ensure that Signal will live up to its commitment to restore and maintain 900 acres of wetlands, Bergeson contended that the legislation contains sufficient guarantees.
She said she will continue to work to obtain the support of environmental groups when the bill is considered in the Assembly.
Bergeson won the backing of Huntington Beach city officials, who once opposed the bill, by giving them a free hand to delete provisions they disliked and add new ones they favored.
"This bill is well balanced," she said. "It does not favor one constituency over the other."
Signal Landmark officials say they need the bill to avoid possible pitfalls that might block the development if current political support for the project weakens.