Seeing Red on Green Cop : Politics: Van de Kamp's call for an environmental advocate riles local prosecutors.

Joe Scott is a Los Angeles political journalist

A key provision of a sweeping environmental initiative proposed by Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp for the November, 1990, ballot has infuriated many members of the California Assn. of District Attorneys. The prosecutors feel that the environmental advocate called for in the measure might challenge their authority to try environmental cases or inappropriately intervene in an ongoing case. The issue promises to be uppermost in the minds of the district attorneys when they assemble for their winter conference in San Francisco Jan. 22.

The proposed environmental cop, to be elected in 1992, would conduct investigations and studies and be empowered to bring legal action against violators of the state's environmental laws. The office's annual budget would be $750,000.

Assemblyman Tom Hayden (D-Santa Monica), who chairs the initiative campaign, says the proposed post is "a great office." But many of the state's 58 district attorneys are upset at Van de Kamp for excluding them from the initiative's drafting process. They particularly question the broad delegation of authority granted by the measure to an elected official to intervene in civil and criminal cases under way.

Although the association's board will be briefed by a Van de Kamp aide during the conference, a consensus opposing the environmental post is already forming. But it's uncertain whether the board, which backed Proposition 65, the anti-toxics measure overwhelmingly approved by voters in 1986, will formally oppose Van de Kamp's environmental initiative. The flap over the environmental advocate offers another example of how Van de Kamp's strategy of using the initiative process as a springboard may land him in a political cactus patch rather than the governors' mansion. At the risk of alienating key constituencies, he's betting that the voters will approve his measures. In, addition to the environmental initiative, Van de Kamp is trying to qualify proposals dealing with eithics drugs and crime.

In any case, Van de Kamp's unfolding dispute with the state's district attorneys is new fodder for his gubernatorial foes, Democrat Dianne Feinstein and Republican Pete Wilson, who, like the district attorneys' group, support a crime-victims initiative that is opposed by the attorney general. Van de Kamp contends that the measure's "privacy" language would endanger abortion rights in California.

Finally, Democratic lawmakers remain displeased by what they consider to be Van de Kamp's pandering to voters on the ethics issue. One of his initiatives would limit terms of office in the Assembly and Senate.

Rep. Mel Levine will not confirm it, but several sources familiar with his thinking say the Santa Monica Democrat will run for the U.S. Senate in 1992. He'll vie for either the seat of Alan Cranston, whose involvement in the Lincoln S&L; scandal has undercut his political standing, or that of Pete Wilson if the Republican senator wins the gubernatorial election. A prolific fund-raiser, Levine already has a war chest of nearly $1.5 million.

Robert Matsui of Sacramento, also seeking reelection to the House, is said to be considering a challenge to Cranston. Barbara Boxer of Greenbrae is yet another Democratic representative reportedly interested in running for the Senate.

A Levine candidacy would trigger a wild scramble among local Democrats for his House seat. Among the names frequently mentioned are Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, Assemblymen Tom Hayden and Terry Friedman, and state Sen. Herschel Rosenthal.

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