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Pete Bontadelli's DFG Is Fair Game for All : Little Hoover Commission Is Latest to Check Into Efficiency of His Operation

June 24, 1989|RICH ROBERTS | Times Staff Writer

Pete Bontadelli has been wearing a wraparound back brace since he lost a wrestling match with a trash barrel at his Sacramento home a few months ago.

It might be mistaken for a bulletproof vest, which would be more symbolic of his position as director of the California Department of Fish and Game.

The Little Hoover Commission, which looks into the efficiency and organization of government agencies in the state, seems to be coming after Bontadelli with both barrels, and there also are rumbles of dissension from within.

"It's difficult to find anyone who believes the department is doing a good job," said Northern California assemblyman Stan Statham (R-Oak Run), whose idea it was to sic the commission on the DFG.

"I talked to Stan," Bontadelli said. "He said, 'This is not a personal thing,' that he was reflecting his constituency in terms of some of their concerns with us . . . some conflicts in his district.

"I'm not that panicked about the Hoover Commission. I think it'll go well."

The commission has 13 members, no more than seven of whom may be registered with either political party. Four are active legislators; nine are private citizens, five of whom are appointed by the governor, two by the Assembly speaker and two by the president pro tem of the state Senate.

The commission usually conducts about a dozen investigations a year. According to executive director Jeannine English, about 80% of its recommendations are implemented, so the DFG's longtime critics eagerly await the outcome.

The DFG has been under a cross fire from outside special interests almost constantly since it was reorganized as a Resources Agency in 1952. Some think it doesn't do enough to protect fish, wildlife and the environment; others think it goes too far. Most believe it's strangled by politics.

When Bontadelli attended a meeting of the California Salmon, Steelhead and Trout Restoration Federation at Arcata in Northern California last year, members performed a skit suggesting that the DFG was run by politicians.

"The audience roared," one observer reported. "Bontadelli didn't think it was that funny."

The Little Hoover hearing in Los Angeles featured farmers and land developers with their complaints about unreasonable obstacles the DFG places in their way in altering the habitat of certain birds and beasts. The one Tuesday in Sacramento will feature testimony from sportsmen's groups.

Peter F. Bontadelli Jr., 41, is a former Army Reserve drill sergeant. He received a political science degree from UC Davis in 1970, joined the DFG in '84 and was appointed director by Gov. George Deukmejian in November of 1987, in charge of more than 1,500 employees, at $85,401 a year.

Because of his back injury, Bontadelli missed the first hearing in Los Angeles May 15, but he will be on the hot seat for the second. He recently discussed some of his department's problems.

Question: Was Statham's assessment fair--that hardly anyone thinks the DFG is doing a good job?

Answer: I don't believe that's true. But in rural areas like Stan's where natural resources are the basis of the economy, we tend to come into conflict with (certain of) those organizations."

Q: Does it bother you that Nathan Shapell, the chairman of the Little Hoover Commission, is himself a major developer (based in Beverly Hills)?

A: I don't have any personal problems with Mr. Shapell. I'm more concerned about the structure of the hearings. In Los Angeles, they had the Farm Bureau and the entire development community, who ripped us to shreds for being too pro-environmental. When we come up north, all of a sudden we have all the environmental and sports groups, and the topics change.

Several sportsmen are up-tight with issues like the deer zones and the management of people rather than critters by cutting down on numbers. A supervisor from Lassen (County), John Gaither, has gone after us on a lot of issues and frequently made the point that we have destroyed the economy by limiting the number of hunters that have come into the county. But the deer quotas are critical to us--and legislatively mandated. The herd can stand only so much pressure.

It would have been a truer reflection of the conflicts we deal with daily if you had had both groups at the same hearing. We are probably somewhere in between, doing as good a job as we can do, given our limited resources. People would prefer we manage it to maintain their occupation rather than our goals.

Q: At the first hearing, some of the Hoover commissioners seemed perplexed that while you serve at the pleasure of the governor, you take orders from the Fish and Game Commission.

A: I think it's a lack of understanding of the real roles. The director does not work for the commission. (He is) appointed by the governor and independently confirmed. My job as the manager is to ensure compliance not only with commission policies but with state law.

Q: So, the commission's main role is only to set hunting and fishing regulations?

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