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McKeon Reversal Sought on River

Decision: City leaders will try to win congressman over on issue of special status for the Santa Clara.


SANTA CLARITA — In an attempt to salvage the Santa Clara River's chance of being named an American Heritage River, the City Council will ask Rep. Howard P. "Buck" McKeon (R-Santa Clarita) to rescind his opposition to the initiative.

The council voted 4 to 1 Tuesday to ask McKeon to reconsider his position and said it will seek the support of U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer to lobby President Clinton on behalf of the river.

A federal panel last week declined to include the Santa Clara River on its list of finalists for American Heritage status. City officials said they were caught off-guard by McKeon's opposition to the initiative, and local environmentalists said the conservative congressman was directly responsible for its exclusion from the list of finalists.

In September, Clinton signed the American Heritage Rivers Initiative, which invited local groups to apply for their rivers to be granted special support and recognition. The designation will provide no new environmental protections or direct funding for the rivers, but rather will assign a federal employee to work with local groups to secure government money.

The president is expected to name the 10 winners in November.

Santa Clarita plans to ask that 11 rivers be given the designation.

"We were blind-sided when [McKeon] asked it to be removed from the list," said city spokeswoman Gail Ortiz. "Our goal now is to try to get the Santa Clara River named an American Heritage River."

In a written statement, McKeon said he opposed the initiative because it invites federal interference into an area that is better left to local control.

"I did not want to open the door to federal bureaucrats to take a vaguely defined 'assistance' role that would eventually lead to federal intrusion over river management," McKeon said.

McKeon spokesman David Foy said the congressman was unlikely to change his position on the matter.

"We certainly appreciate the city of Santa Clarita's concerns," Foy said. "However, at this point there's no reason to invite in the federal government in exchange for a big zero."

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