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State Funds Secession Study

TIMES STAFF WRITER

From money to study San Fernando Valley secession to cash for new parkland in the Santa Monica Mountains, the $81-billion state budget signed Tuesday by Gov. Gray Davis provides funding for an array of area projects.

As expected, Davis did not cut out the $1.8 million the Legislature had placed in the 1999-2000 spending plan to cover 80% of the secession study, probably ending a lengthy dispute over who should pay for the unprecedented analysis of breaking up Los Angeles.

Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), a potential mayoral candidate in 2001, led the push to secure the secession funding as part of the budget along with Assemblyman Bob Hertzberg (D-Sherman Oaks), Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Northridge) and state Sen. Richard Alarcon (D-Sylmar).

Though the drive to obtain money for a secession study overcame its biggest obstacle when it got past powerful state Sens. John Burton (D-San Francisco) and Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles), Hertzberg and Villaraigosa took nothing for granted, lobbying the governor last week to ensure the cash made the cut.

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Hertzberg said he expected local government and Valley VOTE, the main group pushing secession, to pick up the remainder of the tab for the study, which is expected to cost $2.3 million. The study must take place, and has to arrive at certain findings, for secession to be put to a vote.

“I am a very happy man,” Hertzberg said. “I got most of what I wanted, most importantly the study. We’re putting 80 cents on the dollar. I can’t imagine this not ending the debate.”

The secession study was one of many requests for funding by local legislators that found their way into the final budget.

The spending plan includes $10 million for the cash-strapped Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to acquire new parkland and build new trails--a request that was championed by Assemblywoman Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), Assemblyman Wally Knox (D-Los Angeles), state Sen. Tom Hayden (D-Los Angeles) and Hertzberg.

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The budget also includes a $565,000 bailout to cover the conservancy’s operations. The conservancy had survived for years by floating bond issues to pay for acquisitions, but that money was set to run out at the end of the year.

Moreover, the budget reallocates $4.8 million to Mission College to expand its crowded campus.

Assemblyman Tony Cardenas (D-Sylmar) is hoping the fourth time will be the charm for college administrators, who were unable to capitalize on three opportunities to use state construction funds to build a 20,000-square-foot structure with classrooms, laboratories and offices. The college was eventually forced to return the money after failing to use it in time.

Jose Cornejo, Cardenas’ chief of staff, said the reallocation was an “impossible task” achieved only through the expense of Cardenas’ hard-won political capital.

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“It cost the assemblyman a lot to get this one done,” Cornejo said. “The Finance Department opposed it, the [state] Chancellor’s Office was not happy with it--this is a deal with my boss and the governor, and he expects a weekly report on this project now.”

Alarcon, who worked with Cardenas to secure the funding, agreed.

“When money is returned to the state like that, it’s not easy to get it back,” Alarcon said. “This was a tough thing to do.”

Another local school, Glendale Community College, will also receive $4 million to update laboratories and classrooms at its physics, biology and geology building under a request by Assemblyman Scott Wildman (D-Los Angeles).

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At the request of state Sen. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) and Wildman, the spending plan includes $5 million to purchase the Oakmont wilderness area near Glendale and La Crescenta to preserve it from a controversial development proposal.

The Legislature had approved the same request last year, but it was blue-penciled by then-Gov. Pete Wilson.

Environmental activists hailed the funding Tuesday, but acknowledged that the owner of the 238-acre Oakmont property, who has estimated its value at more than $40 million, may not agree to sell it for $5 million.

“This is $5 million cash, it’s not a pipe dream,” said Marc Stirdivant of Glendale-Crescenta VOICE, an environmental group that has been working to save the Oakmont site. “From our standpoint, it’s a significant breakthrough. It took a lot to make this happen.”

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In addition to that request, Schiff and Wildman succeeded in securing $464,000 for the Armenian Film Foundation to complete a feature-length documentary of the Armenian genocide, believed to be the first genocide in modern times.

And Alarcon secured $200,000 to build a memorial for police officers and firefighters in the Valley.

Not all local projects got past Davis, however.

A request by Schiff to obtain money to soundproof homes affected by noise from Burbank Airport was blue-penciled by the governor.

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“Because we were so successful with the $5 million for Oakmont, I am not in a position to complain at all,” Schiff said. “I guess we’ll have to try to get the funding for soundproofing next year, just like we had to try several times to get the Oakmont funding.”

Also rejected was a request by Alarcon for $1 million to create trails in the Tujunga Wash and Hansen Dam areas, a request by Cardenas for $450,000 to upgrade Brand Park in Mission Hills, and a request by Hertzberg to help relocate the Los Angeles Children’s Museum from downtown to Griffith Park.

“I was disappointed in the children’s museum, no doubt about it,” Hertzberg said. “I will bring this one back [next year]. This was bringing the Children’s Museum to the Valley, and the museum to more children everywhere.”

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Times staff writer Solomon Moore contributed to this story.

STATE BUDGET: Governor uses line-item veto to delete $585 million. A3

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Budget Highlights

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Here is a partial list of San Fernando Valley-area projects funded as part of the state budget signed Tuesday:

* San Fernando Valley secession: $1.8 million for state-mandated study on impact of secession.

* Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy: $10 million for trail development and parkland acquisition; $565,000 to cover operating expenses.

* Mission College: $4.8 million to expand campus.

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* Glendale Community College: $4 million to update classrooms and labs at science building.

* Armenian Genocide Documentary: $464,000 for a local group to complete a full-length educational film on the Armenian genocide to be used by public television.

* Oakmont property: $5 million to acquire and preserve a 238-acre property near Glendale where a controversial development is proposed.

* Law enforcement memorial: $200,000 to build a memorial in the Valley for police officers and firefighters.

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