SACRAMENTO — Gov. Pete Wilson's first state budget proposal would provide a shot in the arm to efforts by the California Coastal Commission to crack down on illegal development along the Malibu coastline.
In the $55.7-billion state spending plan he unveiled last Thursday, Wilson proposed boosting the Coastal Commission's budget by $656,000 in the fiscal year beginning next July 1. Under Wilson's plan, the commission's new budget would total about $7.5 million.
A Coastal Commission official said a portion of the increased funding would be used to pay for a full-time enforcement official in the commission's Long Beach field office to investigate alleged violations of coastal development regulations in Los Angeles and Orange counties.
The commission has a backlog of about 700 alleged violations awaiting investigation--many of them in the Malibu area, where development pressure is especially acute. For most of the past six years, however, the commission has had only one full-time investigator. And that official has been stationed in San Francisco.
Wilson's budget proposal, which must be approved by the Legislature, signals a dramatic turnabout in gubernatorial policy toward the Coastal Commission. Created nearly 20 years ago to regulate development along the state's 1,100-mile coastline, the agency was a favorite target for budget cuts by former Gov. George Deukmejian.
Deukmejian viewed the commission as an unnecessary layer of government and routinely sought to slash its budget. Last year, he vetoed $656,000 from the budget that the Legislature had approved for the commission--exactly the amount Wilson has proposed adding.
Wilson rejected the suggestion that his proposal is a rebuke of Deukmejian's policies. Instead, the governor maintained that he and fellow Republican Deukmejian are friends, but "inevitably old and dear friends have some policy disagreements."
Wilson added: "I want to see it (the commission) funded so it can do its job" of protecting the state's coastline.
And he indicated the commission could fare well in future budgets. He called his proposed increase "an initial step in providing the commission with adequate resources."
Not surprisingly, commission staff members greeted Wilson's proposal with enthusiasm.
"We feel it's a significant step in rebuilding California's coastal program," said James W. Burns, the commission's chief deputy director.
Burns said the spending increase would allow the commission to hire three additional full-time enforcement officials to investigate complaints of illegal development along the coast. Development violations vary from illegal grading of property to improper seawall construction.
Burns said he expects one of the new officials would be stationed in the Long Beach field office because "that's where the greatest need is."
The commission's proposed budget increase is particularly significant, Burns said, because Wilson recommended funding reductions for several other agencies to help the state close a predicted $7-billion budget shortfall.
Wilson's proposal for the Coastal Commission was also praised by several Democratic lawmakers who represent coastal areas.
Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) described it as a "good move" and said it shows Wilson is "generally pretty good on the environment."
Sen. Gary K. Hart (D-Santa Barbara), whose district includes Malibu, said, "Given the size of the budget deficit, to have any increase this year is a blessing."
Also tucked away in Wilson's budget proposal was a $10-million appropriation for the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, which purchases open space in the mountainous area. Joseph Edmiston, the conservancy's executive director, said the bulk of the funds would be used to complete a wildlife corridor linking the Santa Monica Mountains with the Simi Hills and the Santa Susanna Mountains.
The corridor is aimed at keeping open paths for such animals as badgers and bobcats to migrate, Edmiston said.