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Ed Begley Nominated to Seat on Land Panel : Parks: Riordan chooses actor to join the mountains conservancy board. Another candidate, Peter Ireland, was target of intense opposition.

January 02, 1994|MYRON LEVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA MONICA MOUNTAINS — Film actor Ed Begley Jr. will expand his portfolio.

Previously named to the city's Environmental Affairs Commission, Begley has been nominated by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy after weeks of speculation over who would represent the city on the park agency's board.

If confirmed, as expected, by the City Council, Begley will join the eight-member panel that sets policy for the conservancy--a state agency that buys parkland in the Santa Monicas and neighboring ranges, including the Santa Susana Mountains and Simi Hills.

The Begley nomination follows vigorous lobbying against Peter Ireland, who was a leading candidate but was targeted by a wide spectrum of opponents, ranging from pro-development interests to conservancy Executive Director Joseph T. Edmiston and City Councilman Zev Yaroslavksy, a conservancy backer.

Begley, 44, a Studio City resident who starred in the television series "St. Elsewhere" and whose film credits include "The Accidental Tourist," is "especially qualified" for the conservancy post, Riordan said in a letter to the council.

The appointment seems likely to enhance the conservancy's image as park agency to the stars. In recent years, actors Warren Beatty and Peter Strauss and singer-songwriter Don Henley have aided the agency's land acquisition efforts. Barbra Streisand last month presented her Malibu estate to the conservancy to use as an environmental research center.

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As government panels go, the conservancy board does not have the highest profile. But the lobbying surrounding the appointment illustrates the intense interest in the agency's land preservation efforts within environmental and development circles.

Supported by Councilwoman Laura Chick, Ireland sought the board post and "was notified by the mayor's office that I had been given the appointment," he said. "Subsequently, I was informed . . . that everything was on hold and that things were being re-evaluated."

William McCarley, Riordan's chief of staff, said Ireland was among several candidates, but declined to give details.

Although other arguments may have been more persuasive, the campaign against Ireland included a false rumor that he was secretly being pushed by Soka University in an effort to stop the conservancy's efforts to acquire Soka's land by eminent domain. Soka is trying to expand its campus into a 3,400-student university, a plan bitterly opposed by environmentalists.

Rumors he was in league with Soka were "completely false and I'm extremely disappointed someone would do this," Ireland said.

"We had a good laugh over it," said Soka spokesman Jeff Ourvan of the allegation. "As far as I know, Peter Ireland has never been a friend of Soka."

The rumor seemed calculated to smear Ireland, said one Soka supporter. "If you want to really ruin somebody's reputation in the environmental community, you accuse him of being soft on Soka," he said.

Edmiston said the rumor circulated among conservancy staff, but then was checked out and found to be false. "I certainly . . . don't think he's a dupe of Soka."

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Ireland, 47, until last spring worked for Edmiston as a high-ranking staffer with the agency. But budget cuts reduced him to consultant status and last summer he became executive director of the Mountains Restoration Trust, a nonprofit land trust that sometimes receives conservancy funds.

Before long, Ireland and his former boss, Edmiston, were feuding over a conservancy-funded study on how the National Park Service could raise money for mountain parkland by selling the development credits that developers must buy to build in coastal areas.

Ireland's new shop, the Restoration Trust, had raised money itself through sale of development credits, and he voiced philosophical as well as practical objections to Park Service involvement. In August, Ireland angered Edmiston by outlining his objections in a long letter to Park Service Director Roger Kennedy.

Ireland already had enemies on the other side of the fence--among them property rights and development advocates with whom he once was allied.

Ireland's initial foray into mountain politics was as leader of a property rights group that fought park expansion. In 1981, he parlayed that role into a staff position with County Supervisor Deane Dana, considered an ally of mountain developers. Ireland also became Dana's representative on the conservancy board.

But he underwent a dramatic transformation from critic to ardent supporter of conservation efforts. In 1989, he supported a secret strategy by the conservancy to permanently block the county from putting landfills in three Santa Monicas canyons--without telling Dana, his boss. A short time later, Ireland left Dana's office for the conservancy staff.

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