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California and the West

Democrats Unveil Own Coast Plan

Environment: Assembly lawmakers counter Wilson proposal with costlier package. Both sides say they hope to compromise on one bond measure for voters.

January 07, 1998|MAX VANZI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — One day after Republican Gov. Pete Wilson announced a bond proposal including $150 million for coastal protection, Assembly Democrats on Tuesday came up with a more costly and far-reaching coastal bond plan of their own.

Democrats rolled out a six-point bond package with a $675-million price tag, saying that degradation of the state's beaches, wetlands and coastal wildlife requires major environmental surgery to bring about improvements.

Wilson aides said the Democrats' plan exceeds what California voters would approve, given the state's many other needs. But both sides spoke of cooperating to produce one coastal bond plan later this year.

Passage of a bond measure would require a two-thirds majority vote in both legislative houses and signature by the governor, followed by a simple majority vote on the statewide November ballot.

The decline of the state's commercial fishing fleets, the threat to sea life such as abalone, white sea bass and sea otters from toxic pollutants, and the closing of California beaches more than 1,300 times in 1995 as a danger to public health all point to deteriorating conditions along California's 1,000-mile coastline, the Democrats said in a statement.

With the state's population rising, and 70% of Californians living within an hour's drive of the seashore, pressure to maintain access while protecting the "delicate" coast will continue to mount, said Assemblyman Fred Keeley, a Democrat from the coastal area south of San Francisco.

Environmental groups such as the League of Coastal Protection and Heal the Bay reacted positively to the Democratic proposal, saying it appeared to contain enough money to substantially improve the coastal environment.

Problems such as urban pollutants pouring through Los Angeles storm drains into Santa Monica Bay have not been solved despite past efforts, said James Alamillo of Heal the Bay, because of the lack of money to pay for diverting the flow, at least as a short-term solution.

Keeley told a Capitol news conference that the state is "flat out of money" to invest in coastal protection, which he noted has received no bond measure assistance for 10 years.

Speaker Cruz Bustamante (D-Fresno) said coastal protection will be a key goal of Assembly Democrats this year.

The coast, he said, "is so much a part of what it means to be a Californian," which is something "even a guy from Fresno can understand."

Bustamante, along with other Democrats, said Wilson's proposal for the coast is "clearly a step in the right direction" but falls short of the resources required to protect "a major part of our heritage."

Wilson on Monday announced a two-part bond proposal totaling $2.1 billion for environmental protections, flood control and water management.

Coastal protection would receive $100 million under the governor's plan, said a Wilson administration official, and about an additional $50 million--out of $310 million in the plan for restoration and construction of state parks--would benefit coastal areas.

Administration officials were critical of the Democratic proposal, saying the governor was more on target with his environmental plan.

The state needs an investment in coastal protection, but "this isn't it," said Wilson spokesman Sean Walsh, referring to the Democrats' proposal.

However, deputy cabinet secretary Michael Kahoe said recognition of the importance of coastal protection "crosses party lines" and despite differences in scale between the governor's and the Democrats' proposals, "we look forward to working with them" to arrive at a single proposal to take to the voters.

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