CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : PROPOSITION 128 : ‘Big Green’ Reached Too Far, Backers Say


Environmental groups, stung by defeat and fearing a loss of momentum, said Wednesday they misstepped by asking voters to approve an overly broad measure in Proposition 128 but pledged to return with narrowly focused initiatives if state officials fail to heed their demands.

“It is clear that the public sent the environmental community a message,” said Carl Pope, conservation director of the Sierra Club. “They said they want environmental reform presented in smaller chunks, and that is a lesson for us. So we will be faced with a lot more ballot measures next time if the governor and the state Legislature can’t handle their jobs.”

Voters on Tuesday overwhelming rejected Proposition 128, the sweeping environmental measure known as “Big Green,” and defeated by a smaller margin Proposition 130, a forest protection measure.


Environmental groups had sponsored both measures, and Hollywood celebrities donated money and time to them. But the defeat of Big Green, which championed many of the environmental movement’s top priorities, was particularly painful to many activists.

“The people who were most involved in this made a major blunder,” said an environmental activist who asked not to be identified. “They misread what the public was willing to take. . . . I am bitter because it will be portrayed by many as a big loss, that people don’t care about the environment.”

Some activists contended that the resounding loss “finished the career” of Assemblyman Tom Hayden, a sponsor of the measure whose name was invoked repeatedly by the opponents. Although Hayden insisted the defeat did not reflect voters’ attitudes toward him, the Santa Monica Democrat acknowledged that the rejection was a “humbling experience.”

“You can’t take anything for granted,” Hayden said. “You can’t be overconfident.”

Other activists consoled themselves with the widely held belief that the initiative was in part a victim of a trend by voters to reject virtually all ballot measures that carried costs.

Many also took comfort in the defeat by even larger proportions of two counter initiatives sponsored by industry. Proposition 135, a farmer-backed pesticide initiative, and Proposition 138, the timber industry’s alternative to Proposition 130, both lost soundly.

“Big Green was another casualty of the Big No,” said Al Meyerhoff, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council and an author of the measure.


Indeed, many saw hope in the new Administration of Gov.-elect Pete Wilson, who pledged during his campaign to be an “environmental advocate” and to create a state Environmental Protection Agency responsible for regulating pesticides.

Kirk West, president of the California Chamber of Commerce, said he was “astounded” by Big Green’s nearly 2-1 losing margin. Early on, he noted, many businesses thought the measure was unbeatable.

He predicted that the defeat would encourage corporations to contribute generously in the future to defeat similar “unreasonable” initiatives but acknowledged that the voters’ mood Tuesday may have been particularly instrumental in Proposition 128’s defeat.

“All of the initiatives that looked too costly and too complicated went down,” West noted.

Proposition 128’s supporters had predicted the measure would spark similar attempts at environmental reform across the country. But with its defeat, some feared such efforts may be stymied.

For instance, the Bush Administration is under pressure from environmental groups and other nations for programs to reduce carbon dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming. The Administration has resisted in part because of the costs of making such reductions. Proposition 128 called for reducing emissions by as much as 40%.

But William Reilly, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said he does not believe Big Green’s defeat will spell trouble for such environmental objectives.


“Proposition 128 simply tried for too much too fast,” Reilly said. “Far from signaling an end to public interest in the environment, California’s voters showed their concern that this particular initiative was confusing, fraught with unknowns for the state’s economy and attempted to do too much at once.”

Environmentalists complained that industry confused voters with counter initiatives.

For instance, the proponents of Proposition 130, the “Forests Forever” measure, said the presence of the timber industry’s Proposition 138 distracted from their campaign to preserve California’s forests.

“We sank 138, we shot the hell out of it, but at the same time we gave up precious seconds (on television) that could have been used to extol the virtues of redwood forests,” said Steve Glazer, a spokesman for the Proposition 130 campaign.