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11th-Hour Maneuvering : Lure of Federal Money Cemented Pact for Collider

September 04, 1987|DOUGLAS SHUIT | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Not even lawmakers carrying legislation aimed at getting the world's largest atom smasher built in California can explain what the $4.4-billion superconducting super collider actually will do, other than bring a fat federal payroll to the state and create thousands of jobs.

But that was enough for Gov. George Deukmejian, a handful of rural Democratic legislators and the slick governmental relations arm of the University of California to revive the collider legislation from near death and secure its passage Wednesday night.

Deukmejian climaxed two days of topsy-turvy politics Thursday when he signed bills authorizing the sale of $560 million in bonds to finance the state's share of the super collider project and guaranteeing unprecedented participation of women and minority-owned business firms in the project, if it comes to California.

Telegram of Notification

Deukmejian also sent a telegram to Secretary of Energy John Herrington notifying him of approval of the financing package.

The governor, in a typical understatement, said in comments released by his office, "I'm glad that all parties got together. . . ."

The quietness of the bill-signing belied the sometimes frenzied, always bruising battle waged to get the collider legislation passed.

Liberal Democrats got the fight going, demanding that the legislation contain strong affirmative action language. That aroused conservative Republicans, who warned they would derail the entire project because of their opposition to setting affirmative action goals in bond legislation.

The concern was that these goals would make the bonds difficult to sell and that the state could not find enough qualified minority investment bankers to handle the sale.

And then there was the issue of the super collider itself, a project so esoteric that its supporters say its main purpose is to add to the "understanding of the fundamental structure of matter," as if that explained it all.

25 States Bid

California, one of 25 states bidding for the collider project, is proposing that the atom smasher be built on one of two sites, both within an hour's drive of the state Capitol.

The collider, if built, would be the largest scientific instrument in the world. It would be constructed at least 50 feet underground, in an oval tunnel 53 miles in circumference. Inside the tunnel, to be 10 feet in diameter, there will be two rings of 10,000 super-magnets that will propel protons at one another at nearly the speed of light.

Scientists want to know what will happen upon collision of these subatomic particles, which are impossible to see with the naked eye.

The nature of the project excited University of California officials and made quick converts of others, both because it could lead to new scientific breakthroughs as well as mean an economic bonanza to whichever state lands the project. It is estimated that the facility will need a permanent work force of as many as 3,500 scientists, technicians and others, with an annual budget of $270 million.

Supporters say it was the attractiveness of the project that eventually got the legislation passed and kept them busy working behind the scenes to put the deal together even when many considered the project dead Tuesday night.

"We just didn't quit," said Sen. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Grove), whose largely agricultural district contains one of the proposed sites.

The project was in the most trouble when Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), angry over a weak Republican counteroffer to his affirmative action proposal, refused to allow the collider legislation to even come up for a vote and then adjourned the house Tuesday night. Brown knew that the Assembly would not meet again until after the next day's 11 a.m. deadline set by the U.S. Department of Energy for submission of bids.

Alternative Strategy

But university officials, including UC President David Gardner, joined Garamendi, the bill's author, Assemblyman Sam Farr (D-Carmel), and Deukmejian Administration officials in devising an alternate strategy.

At Deukmejian's request, Gardner reconvened the California Collider Commission, set up to oversee the state's bid, in a Wednesday morning emergency session that allowed the state to submit its bid at Department of Energy headquarters in Washington with less than 10 minutes to spare.

In the meantime, Deukmejian told Garamendi and Farr that he would accept the affirmative action goals sought by Brown and other Assembly Democrats. Basically, the goals are intended to direct 15% of the financial windfall to firms owned by minorities and another 5% to women-owned businesses.

The details were worked out during a private luncheon in the governor's office, more than an hour after the bid was officially submitted in Washington. Attending were Deukmejian, Brown and other legislative leaders. The agreement paved the way for quick passage of the collider bills in the Assembly and Senate about nightfall.

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