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Future Iffy on Bill to Control Illegal Roads in Santa Monicas

September 21, 1989|JACK CHEEVERS | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — As Santa Monica Mountains preservationists urged its approval, Gov. George Deukmejian is expected to act soon on a bill that would enable the California Coastal Commission to crack down faster on illegal bulldozing and road-building.

But commission officials are prepared for the governor to veto the legislation, sponsored by state Sen. Ed Davis (R-Valencia). Deukmejian is a longtime antagonist of the coastal protection agency and has cut its budget in five of the last six years.

Coastal Commission officials asked Davis to carry the bill on the theory that, as a conservative Republican, he would get a sympathetic hearing from Deukmejian.

Restraining Order

Davis' legislation would give Coastal Commission officials power to issue immediate stop-work orders against developers who break state coastal preservation laws. It also provides for fines of up to $6,000 a day against developers who ignore such orders.

The commission must now ask the state attorney general to get a judge to issue a temporary restraining order to halt alleged violations. If a restraining order is violated, the court can impose fines of as much as $5,000 per day.

Nancy Cave, the commission's only statewide enforcement officer, said that process often takes a week, a period that is often sufficient for developers to complete their illegal work.

Illegal grading and road construction have become problems in the Santa Monica Mountains and along the Malibu coast, where the lure of enormous profits to be made from building expensive homes far exceeds the threat of state fines for developers who build roads or landscape illegally, officials say.

A staff shortage has left the commission with a backlog of more than 600 such alleged violations statewide, more than half of them in Los Angeles and Orange counties, Cave said Friday.

20% in Mountains

Cave, who supervises five part-time enforcement officers, said the commission is able to pursue only about 75 of the most serious violations at any one time. About 20% of those cases have occurred in the Santa Monica Mountains.

The Davis bill would authorize the commission to issue a stop-work order in a single day, quickly halting further environmental damage, she said. "We'd be taken more seriously by the community of alleged violators," Cave said.

Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, a state agency that buys land for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, said the bill, if enacted, would provide an effective weapon against "midnight bulldozing operations."

He cited a fire road in upper Ramirez Canyon behind Malibu that state officials say was paved recently without permits. He said that the road was completed over a weekend and that coastal officials should have had the authority to halt such a project immediately.

The legislation is opposed by the California Chamber of Commerce and the California Farm Bureau Federation, which argue that it infringes on property owners' rights.

John Gamper, a farm bureau spokesman, said the bill damages owners' due-process rights by giving blanket authority to state bureaucrats to order construction projects stopped immediately, rather than turning disputes over to a judge, who would make a decision after hearing both sides.

Issue of Time

But commission officials noted that the bill would require them to notify developers before issuing a 60-day stop-work order and that the order could be challenged in court.

Davis, a former Los Angeles police chief who has sharply criticized the Coastal Commission, said his bill is a law-and-order issue.

"There's absolutely no reason to obey the law now because of the law of economics," he said. "We shouldn't sanction these kinds of criminals."

Davis said he will press Deukmejian Administration officials to support his bill, but a Deukmejian spokesman said the governor "is not expected to look favorably on the bill."

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