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Wilson Calls for Buying Land in Recreation Area

Times Staff Writer

Republican Sen. Pete Wilson was greeted with hearty applause Sunday when he told about 3,000 people at Paramount Ranch that land acquisition must be a “top priority” for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area.

But some in the crowd were not persuaded.

One of them, environmentalist Steve Hartman, head of the Santa Monica Mountains chapter of the California Native Plant Society, asked the senator:

“Why has the Reagan Administration cut off funds for the Santa Monica Mountains?”

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“It hasn’t,” replied Wilson, who is up for reelection on the Nov. 8 ballot. “It has approved $40 million in the last six years.”

A Good Question

Later, California’s junior U.S. senator admitted that the question was pertinent, conceding that there have not been enough federal dollars to purchase all the land envisioned by Congress when the national recreational area was created in 1978.

“I think the legislation (creating the area) is a good intention, but it’s a bit of a hoax not to appropriate enough money for it,” he said.

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That seemed to typify the mood of many who turned out to attend festivities--highlighted by a small parade, music and outdoor exhibits--to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the creation of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area.

Many in the crowd--replete in either chic running shoes or western attire--were concerned that a national recreational area near Los Angeles might never be realized.

“I believe we can still do it, but there has to be a more sympathetic attitude in Washington,” said one woman, who described herself as an urban wilderness “nut.”

David Brown, a member of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy advisory board, added, “We’re going to lose it unless we get the land bought.”

It’s been a rocky first 10 years for the recreational area.

When it was created, a 150,000-acre network of federal, state and local parks linked by trails was envisioned, stretching from Griffith Park to Pt. Mugu in Ventura County.

It was an ambitious plan to save a rugged yet pristine preserve of wilderness in the midst of a sprawling metropolis.

But only $40 million, far short of the $150 million suggested to acquire the needed land, has been appropriated so far and that has slowed the process.

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Since 1978, only 13,000 acres have been purchased. Money initially earmarked for land acquisition in recent years was trimmed as the Reagan Administration sought to reduce the budget deficit.

Last year, only $1 million was set aside.

But $11 million has been approved for next year, giving environmentalists some hope.

Other problems have also stymied the plans:

* Because land acquisition has slowed, builders have eyed property near or within the recreational area. One proposal, for example, calls for 1,500 to 1,600 homes on Jordan Ranch land owned by comedian Bob Hope. Potomac Investment Associates, a Maryland firm, proposed the development and has an option to buy the land from Hope.

* Los Angeles County officials have proposed an extension of Thousand Oaks Boulevard through national recreation area land to ease traffic congestion on the Ventura Freeway. National Parks Service officials oppose the plan, but the county has been unwilling to drop the project.

* Environmentalists complain that some of the land already acquired is steep, hilly terrain that has marginal appeal to most hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts, while other lands, flat and suitable for campgrounds and other recreational uses, is so expensive that only developers can afford it.

Despite the problems, the Paramount Ranch crowd was upbeat as it watched actor Buddy Ebsen dance a jig and picnicked under hazy yet sunny skies.

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“I think people have a good feeling about the mountains,” said Linda Friedman of the Santa Monica Mountains Parkland Assn. “We just want this open land here so future generations can also enjoy it.”


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