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State Bond Initiative Offers Windfall for Parks : Santa Monica Mountains Would Share $40 Million With Fernando Foothills

May 26, 1988|MYRON LEVIN | Times Staff Writer

The state parks bond initiative on the June 7 ballot includes a $40-million windfall for parks in the Santa Monica Mountains and San Fernando Valley foothills, enough to preserve thousands more acres of trails and picnic sites, scenic vistas and wildlife habitat.

The $776-million parks and wildlife initiative--Proposition 70 on the ballot--earmarks funds for about 70 specific projects throughout the state, including $10 million to preserve open space in the Santa Susana Mountains in the northwest valley and the Simi Hills. An extra $30 million would go to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency, to buy land in the Santa Monicas and the Rim of the Valley Corridor, made up of the hillsides and canyons encircling the San Fernando Valley.

The $40-million figure is actually a minimum since state and local parks agencies could use part of their bond money for Santa Monicas and valley projects. The measure would give about $99 million to the state Department of Parks and Recreation for land acquisition, and about $16.6 million to Los Angeles County and $1.2 million to Ventura County to expand or improve parks. The city of Los Angeles would get about $12.4 million, with lesser sums due other cities according to population.

Altogether, roughly $113.5 million of the bond money, or nearly 15%, would go for specific projects or park agencies in Los Angeles County. Ventura County's share would be roughly $12.2 million.

If polls are correct and the measure passes, it will be the state's most ambitious and costly parks bond ever, and the first adopted through the initiative process.

'Marvelous Opportunity'

"It's a terrific idea and . . . marvelous opportunity for California," said Jerome Daniel, chairman of an advisory committee to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and ex-chairman of the Federation of Hillside and Canyon Assns., which contributed money and signatures to get the measure on the ballot.

Some local opposition has emerged among residents along Mulholland Drive, who blame the conservancy for late-night revelry and vandalism at scenic overlooks the agency has built.

"We're not against parks," said George Caloyannidis, a leader of Hands Off Mulholland, a neighborhood group. "We just don't trust them anymore," he said in reference to the conservancy.

Statewide, the measure is backed by a broad array of conservation groups, including the Planning and Conservation League and the Sierra Club, and by outdoor recreation, community organizations and some business interests. Supporters, who call themselves Californians for Parks & Wildlife, say the measure is critically needed because open space will be too scarce and expensive in the future.

They say the measure will also benefit the state's giant tourist industry. Traditionally, parks and wildlife bonds have been crafted by the Legislature and sent to voters every few years. But initiative organizers lost patience and took matters into their own hands after lawmakers and Gov. George Deukmejian failed to act on three bond proposals in 1985-86.

Opponents, who call their campaign committee Citizens for Honest Park Planning, include the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Farm Bureau Federation and the California Cattlemen's Assn.

They argue that the bond act bypasses orderly park planning, in which acquisition priorities are set by legislators and state park officials. They contend that the proposition provides too much money for acquisition and too little to fix up existing parks, and is just too expensive considering the state's other needs. According to some estimates, it would cost about $1.3 billion over 20 years to pay off the bonds--or about $2.50 per year for each California resident.

But the environmental forces have enjoyed a fund-raising advantage. And, in another reversal of roles, the business groups have fought back with the type of rhetoric usually aimed at them. Opposition leaflets dismiss the proposition as a creation of "special-interest groups" who bought a place on the ballot for "their own pet projects" by delivering signatures and campaign funds.

Gerald Meral, director of Californians for Parks & Wildlife, insisted that the projects were considered on their merits, not because of local supporters. For example, the measure provides $10 million for improvements at Los Angeles County beaches and $10 million for the Baldwin Hills State Recreation Area near Culver City. No local groups came forward to raise money or signatures on behalf of either project, Meral said.

A few splits have appeared in the opposition ranks. Some chambers of commerce--including those in Northridge, Orange County and San Diego--have broken with the state chamber and endorsed the initiative. And although Deukmejian is against the initiative, the state's Park and Recreation Commission that he appoints recently voted 4-3 to endorse it.

75% Polled in Support

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