Opponents of a federal land exchange involving Ventura County property owned by entertainer Bob Hope suffered a setback Tuesday when a key congressional subcommittee refused to block the transfer while including $12.4 million for the Santa Monica Mountains in a parkland appropriation bill.
The interior subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee declined to include language in a spending bill for parkland acquisition in the 1991 fiscal year that would prevent an environmental impact review of the controversial land-swap proposal. The Wilderness Society, a leading foe of the exchange, had asked the panel in March to prohibit the National Park Service from spending any money for the Santa Monicas on a required environmental impact review of the proposal.
But in refusing to include the language, subcommittee chairman Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.) appears to have heeded the recommendation of Rep. Anthony C. Beilenson (D-Los Angeles), a proponent of the land swap.
Hope is seeking 59 acres owned by the National Park Service in Cheeseboro Canyon in exchange for 1,100 acres of his adjacent Jordan Ranch. Both properties are located in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. Potomac Investment Associates, which has an option on Jordan Ranch, wants to acquire the Cheeseboro parcel for an access road from the Ventura Freeway to a proposed development of 750 estate homes and a Professional Golf Assn. golf course on the remainder of the 2,308-acre Jordan Ranch.
In another part of the deal, Hope has agreed to sell another 4,600 acres in the Santa Monica and Santa Susana mountains to parks agencies for $10 million--which proponents say is well below market value--if the exchange is approved by the National Park Service. Opponents maintain that the Park Service should not, in effect, promote development of environmentally sensitive properties by making such a trade.
Yates, who was heavily lobbied by both sides on the Jordan Ranch issue, had publicly asked for advice from Beilenson, the park's leading congressional proponent.
Beilenson announced his endorsement of the land swap last month after he negotiated with Hope through Potomac to cut the purchase price for the additional 4,600 acres, from $20 million to $10 million. Beilenson urged Yates, with whom he has considerable clout, not to include language in the appropriations bill to prevent the swap from proceeding.
Beilenson contends that the proposal gives the cash-strapped park a rare opportunity to acquire long-sought properties that would otherwise be too costly to purchase.
The $12.4 million for the Santa Monicas is slightly more than the $11.55 million requested by President Bush, but far less than the $33 million sought by park advocates, including Reps. Beilenson and Howard L. Berman (D-Panorama City).
Nevertheless, it would represent the largest amount the park has ever received and the most for any park in the nation, nearly 13% of the $96.4-million total for park acquisition in the appropriations bill.
"It's not as much as we need," Beilenson said. "But it's probably the best we could hope for."
The appropriations bill goes to the full Appropriations Committee. It faces numerous hurdles before it becomes law.
Park proponents have maintained that higher federal allocations are needed for the Santa Monicas. They cite development pressures and the dramatically increased cost of parcels in the recreation area, a centrally located expanse of houses, private property and parkland that stretches 46 miles from Griffith Park to Point Mugu.