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State government

If Trump administration tries to sell federal land in California, a new law says the state gets first dibs

A cholla cactus is backlighted by the setting sun in the Mojave Desert. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)
A cholla cactus is backlighted by the setting sun in the Mojave Desert. (Gina Ferazzi/Los Angeles Times)

California officials could be barred from transferring the title for federal government land to a private owner under a law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, prompted by fears that President Trump may shift away from previous efforts at preservation.

The new law, which takes effect in January, will insist that the state government get the first right of refusal to buy any land discarded or sold by federal officials.

"This legislation gives the state a viable way to help prevent the unthinkable sell-off of our public treasures, such as national parks, national monuments and national historic sites," said state Sen. Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), the bill's author.

While environmentalists praised the proposal, it had been opposed by the County Recorders Assn. of California, which warned of both legal challenges and potential conflicts with federal law.

The law, which would allow the California State Lands Commission to purchase the land, was crafted largely as a preemptive move in the event the Trump administration or Congress changes course on ownership of some 45.8 million acres of federally controlled land inside the state's borders.

Last month, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced plans to strip federal protections from 10 national monument sites, though only one includes a portion of land inside California's borders.

Brown signed the law without comment on Friday. Its supporters say it is the first such action by any state in the nation.

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