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Legislature OKs Plan to Place $2-Billion Parks Bond on Ballot : Capitol: Bill is biggest such measure ever enacted by state's legislators. Davis is expected to approve it.


SACRAMENTO — Californians would vote next March whether to rehabilitate their aging city and state park systems under a historic $2-billion bond issue overwhelmingly approved Friday by the Legislature and sent to Gov. Gray Davis for his expected signature.

The massive program is the biggest such measure ever enacted by the Legislature. It includes $503 million for state parks, $100 million for park acquisition in inner-city neighborhoods, $15 million for athletic fields to benefit poor children and $25 million for Santa Monica Bay.

Davis certainly supports the measure, said his press secretary, Michael Bustamante. It would appear on the primary ballot March 7.

No state bond issue for parks and recreation has received voter approval in this decade, but environmentalists voiced optimism that the electorate would endorse this one because the economy has bounced back.

"It means a huge investment in the greening and beautifying of Los Angeles," said state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles), who managed the bill on the Senate floor. "It's a whole agenda for unmet needs."

Hayden estimated that the city and county of Los Angeles would be eligible for $750 million. Additionally, he said, the California Science Center would receive $7 million; the African American Museum, $3 million; the Los Angeles and San Gabriel rivers, at least $25 million; the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, $35 million; and coastal preservation in the county, $22 million.

The bill, AB 18, by Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), easily cleared both houses within a couple of hours on rare bipartisan votes: 29 to 3 in the Senate and 57 to 15 in the Assembly.

GOP Calls Bill 'Pile of Pork'

For Villaraigosa, who may run for mayor of Los Angeles, passage of the bill was a major victory in the face of conflicting demands from environmentalists, developers, big cities, rural villages, Republicans, Democrats and others.

Even so, the compromise bill drew criticism, especially from Assembly Republicans who denounced it as a "pile of pork" and a "Christmas tree" for special interests.

"Nothing could be further from the truth," Villaraigosa shot back. "What it is is a blueprint for the future."

It also appears to be one of the few bond issues that will win legislative approval this year. Other measures, for transportation, water, housing and other public works programs, are still competing for passage, but their fate is unclear.

The parks measure represents an attempt to make up for what critics have called years of neglect. As government entities struggled to balance their budgets during the recession, park maintenance, land acquisition and neighborhood facilities were put on hold.

In contrast to many previous parks bond measures, the bill focuses on pouring millions of dollars into rehabilitation, expansion and creation of neighborhood parks and recreation facilities in inner cities, notably "park-poor" Los Angeles."

It also represents a renewed concentration on the environment by Sacramento. In his state budget, Davis already has $370 million for parkland acquisition and $150 million for inner-city recreation programs.

Other provisions of the bond measure are $826.5 million for urban parks and trails; $265.5 million for wildlife conservation; $220 million for coastal protection; $135 million for various other conservancy programs; and $25 million for agricultural land conservation.

"For the first time, it provides a balance. It's not only for Lake Tahoe, the coast or the Sierra, but for urban parks and watersheds," said veteran conservation lobbyist V. John White.

Consensus on Health Care May Be Near

Approval of the bond issue capped a hectic day as members of both houses recessed for the Labor Day weekend. They will return Tuesday and intend to conclude the 1999 session Thursday or Friday.

Other major issues remain, but there were signs that a consensus is developing on reform of managed health care in California. Negotiators said a package of bills to give patients more say over their health care will probably emerge next week.

However, the package may total 20 or more bills, far more than the handful Davis said he wanted. Altogether, there are about 70 bills on the issue, some of which conflict with one another.

Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park), chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, forecast that a centerpiece of the proposal would give patients the ability to sue their health maintenance organizations for punitive damages.

Managed health executives have launched a major offensive against the lawsuit bills, warning that additional exposure to liability would result in higher insurance costs to the consumer and a reduction in coverage by employers.

Gallegos said it is still unclear whether Davis will approve requiring insurers to provide additional benefits such as contraceptives for women and testing kits for diabetics.

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