The Senate Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday approved a bill to give the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, now scheduled to go out of business in July, 1990, a new lease on life.
The measure, by Sen. Herschel Rosenthal (D-Los Angeles), would extend the life of the agency to Dec. 31, 1995. Without discussion, the committee approved the bill on a 9-0 vote and sent it to the Appropriations Committee.
Rosenthal said he was "a little surprised" that the bill sailed through the committee without opposition because critics in past years have questioned the need for the conservancy. He suggested that the conservancy is now accepted by lawmakers as a "motherhood" issue, one that is difficult to oppose.
"I think that the environment and open space concepts have taken on greater importance in people's minds," Rosenthal said.
Supporters saw the unopposed vote as a hopeful sign for eventual passage of the bill.
Since the conservancy was established in 1979, it has purchased or helped pay for the acquisition of about 10,000 acres of open space and parkland at a cost of about $38 million, according to Joseph T. Edmiston, its executive director.
When the conservancy was created, backers overcame objections that there were already sufficient state and local agencies to handle purchases of private property in the mountains.
In 1981, the Legislature extended the conservancy's life to July, 1986, but as that date approached, prospects for further extension were uncertain because Gov. George Deukmejian was not a strong supporter of the agency. In 1985, for example, Deukmejian dealt it a setback by vetoing $6 million in the budget for the conservancy to buy additional land. Later that year, however, Deukmejian signed legislation extending the conservancy to 1990.
The conservancy has increasingly attracted bipartisan support, with Republicans now carrying bills for an agency that was established with heavy Democratic backing. Moreover, last year voters approved Proposition 70, a park and wildlife bond issue that set aside $30 million of its $776 million total for the conservancy.
Edmiston described Proposition 70 as a watershed for the conservancy, partly because it assured continued funding for land acquisition into the next decade.