Santa Monicas Need an Advocate

Glib as it may sound, the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy seems to operate best in a crisis. Good thing--because that’s the state the 20-year-old state agency charged with cobbling together mountain parks knows best. Although never rich, the conservancy now faces the possibility of running out of money to spend in the Santa Monicas by summer. It should not happen. And it probably won’t.

The conservancy has depended on state money and allocations from local bond measures to stitch together one of the largest urban park systems in the world, saving a natural treasure from bulldozers and tract houses. But with its funding sources drying up, conservancy executive director Joseph T. Edmiston predicts his agency will be out of money for the Santa Monicas by June 30. The agency will still have money earmarked for purchases in the Santa Susana Mountains and other parts of Los Angeles County.

How serious is the conservancy’s situation? That depends on who’s talking. To Edmiston it’s very serious. But Edmiston is an unusual bureaucrat, no stranger to brinkmanship politics. And some suspect Edmiston’s dire warning of being a ploy to get attention in Sacramento. In recent years, the state’s share of funding the conservancy’s operations has dropped from 100% to less than 20%. Some conservancy leaders want another $500,000 added to the agency’s budget to keep operations going.

Working with agencies such as the National Park Service and the state Department of Parks and Recreation, the conservancy has saved nearly half the land in the Santa Monicas from future development. It was instrumental in assembling the Backbone Trail, an uninterrupted path between Topanga State Park and Point Mugu. But its work is far from finished.

The Santa Monicas need an official advocate--both to piece together new parkland and to manage existing parcels. Edmiston may be a master of bluster, but his premonitions have an uncanny knack of coming true. Four statewide park bond measures are under discussion in Sacramento that could replenish the conservancy’s coffers, but the earliest they could reach the ballot would be March 2000. If the conservancy is so broke that it cannot survive until then, the state should intervene--and then ask what happened.