CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS / PROPOSITION 128 : City Panel Endorses Initiative Despite Cost

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Los Angeles Environmental Affairs Commission on Wednesday unanimously endorsed Proposition 128 despite estimates that the sweeping environmental initiative could cost city agencies more than $6 billion to implement.

"The citizens have clearly stated that it is time that we are all held accountable for the environment," said commission President Marilyn Morton. "And the public has said that it is willing to pay the cost."

The city's giant Department of Water and Power had estimated that it would cost that agency alone about $6 billion to implement the November ballot initiative, known as Big Green by its backers and the Tom Hayden initiative by its opponents.

But the Department of Environmental Affairs staff report said the DWP estimates were based on a worst-case scenario. "We feel the DWP figures are overstated," said Lillian Kawasaki, general manager of the Department of Environmental Affairs.

Still, DWP officials stood by their estimates. Dennis Whitney, assistant engineer of system development for the DWP, told the commission that the estimates are based on a "reasonable" outcome and not the worst case. It is possible, Whitney said, that the actual costs of implementing the proposition could be much greater than now estimated.

The endorsement was the first major position taken by the city commission since it was given a staff and budget earlier this year to take an active role in formulating city environmental policy. Though they endorsed the controversial initiative, officials said they should not be considered a rubber stamp for every environmentalist issue.

"This is not a blanket endorsement," said Kawasaki.

Still, in accepting the staff's recommendation, the commission embraced environmental safety over economic costs in reaching its conclusion--even though Morton said the measure was "elitist" and did not adequately consider the impact on minority communities and small businesses.

The Environmental Affairs Commission will forward its recommendation and analysis to the City Council's Commerce, Energy and Natural Resources Committee. It could then be sent to the City Council for a vote on whether the city should endorse, oppose or remain neutral on the state ballot measure.

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