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Co-Sponsor of Fox Bill Disavows Authorship : Law: State Sen. Herschel Rosenthal is unhappy that the measure, which would shield the studio's expansion from lawsuits, may escape debate before a Senate vote.


WEST LOS ANGELES — Bowing to political pressure, state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles) has asked that his name be removed from a measure specially crafted to protect Fox Studio's planned $200-million expansion from future lawsuits.

But an aide to the senator said this week that Rosenthal may yet vote to support the much-criticized special legislation, despite having disavowed co-authorship.

"He's weighing what to do on that," said Lynette Stevens, Rosenthal's chief of staff.

Meanwhile, the measure got a boost from a Senate committee staff that recommended that it be sent directly to the Senate for a vote when lawmakers return from recess in the middle of the month.

The recommendation by the staff of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which had been expected to conduct a hearing on the measure Aug. 16, means that the bill could be voted on without critics having a further chance to oppose it.

The measure, co-sponsored by Rosenthal and Assemblyman Stan Statham, a Republican from Oak Run in Northern California who is a member of the state Film Commission, would prevent lawsuits aimed at blocking the Fox project by declaring that it complies with all local zoning and planning requirements.

It would also exempt the project from further review under the California Environmental Quality Act, the primary state law that regulates such projects.

Critics contend that the legislation would exempt the proposed 771,000-square-foot expansion from further scrutiny even if the project were changed in the future.

The measure was hastily approved by the Government Operations Committee on July 13 before the project's opponents learned of the legislation. A Sierra Club lobbyist, who learned of the bill shortly before it was introduced, was the lone person to testify against it.

Opponents, led by state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), contend that by denying citizens their right to petition the courts for redress, the measure undermines public confidence in the planning process and sets a disastrous precedent of state intervention in local affairs.


Rosenthal's request that his name be removed from the bill follows mounting criticism from environmentalists, who in the past have been among the lame-duck senator's strongest supporters.

The action itself is not likely to have an impact on the outcome of the legislation.

Fox opponents quickly dismissed the gesture as inadequate.

"We don't only want him to take his name off; we want him to work to defeat this bill," said Sandy Brown, president of the Westside Civic Federation, which represents 17 homeowners groups.

Rosenthal, who declined to be interviewed, issued a brief written statement reiterating his support for the project and stating why he chose to disavow co-authorship.

He said that when he agreed to introduce the measure he understood that opponents would be given a chance to be heard before the Appropriations Committee and was "unhappy to learn that Assemblyman Statham has moved the bill directly to the Senate floor without debate."

Statham disavowed any role in maneuvering the bill to avoid a further hearing.

"All we're doing is helping Fox cross the finish line," he said. "We don't want them to have to wake up in the middle of the night with nightmares about leaving Southern California because some people do not want their project to go forward."

The Appropriations Committee staff recommended that the bill bypass the committee after concluding that it had only a nominal fiscal impact. However, staff member Bob Franzoia said that state Sen. Robert Presley (D-Riverside), the committee chairman, has yet to decide whether to hear the matter.

Presley could not be reached for comment.

The prospect that the measure might not be exposed to full-scale debate elicited angry reactions from two key political opponents of the measure: Hayden and Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky.

Yaroslavsky called the legislation "a fiasco," adding, "Everything that could be done wrong, has been done wrong."

For his part, Hayden accused Fox officials of working to "steamroller" the legislation and cut off public debate.

Fox Vice President David Handelman acknowledged that the studio had approached Presley and other lawmakers seeking support for the bill, but denied that the studio is trying to orchestrate the legislative process.

"He (Presley) is one of several senators we've spoken to," Handelman said. "My impression is that he has a favorable view of the bill, but beyond that, we've asked for no special favors."

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