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Santa Ana River Agency Is Opposed

Times Staff Writer

A divided Orange County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to oppose the creation of a state conservancy to preserve and restore swaths of land along the Santa Ana River, the largest stream system in Southern California.

The board voted 3 to 2 to oppose a bill by Assemblyman Lou Correa (D-Anaheim) to create the Santa Ana River Conservancy, which would be charged with promoting open space, restoration and recreation. The conservancy would be funded by the state and through bond measures.

“The bill, even though the intentions are good, is extremely vague,” said Supervisor Jim Silva, who along with supervisors Chris Norby and Bill Campbell opposed the proposal. “With all due respect, I’m not sure what [Correa] expected to accomplish, considering we have so many agencies” that already oversee the river.

Campbell listed 19 agencies with jurisdiction over part of the river, including the Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Fish and Game and the Orange County Water District.

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“It creates one more entity competing for scarce state funds to manage this river while we already have agencies doing it,” he said.

Other concerns include a lack of information about who would appoint the conservancy’s board of directors, worries that the conservancy could usurp local government’s powers and fears that a conservancy could block a proposed expansion of the Orange Freeway along the Santa Ana River.

The 96-mile Santa Ana River starts near Big Bear Lake and runs through San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties before flowing into the Pacific between Newport Beach and Huntington Beach. More than 4 million people live within its 2,700-square-mile watershed.

Under the legislation, the Santa Ana River Conservancy would acquire and manage public land within that area, provide recreational opportunities, restore habitat, protect water quality and prepare a “Santa Ana River Parkway and Open Space Plan.”

“I live in and represent the densest area, in terms of population, in the state of California,” Correa said. “Per capita, there’s less park space than any place I can think of. It’s important we preserve those open spaces that we do have, and this proposed bill not only does that for Orange County, it does that for Riverside and San Bernardino [counties]. Correa called supervisors to lobby for the bill.

“I’m a little saddened and disappointed by the board’s opposition to this bill,” he said. “It’s an important piece of legislation that has to go through the legislative process, which means it will continue to be modified and rewritten to address [the supervisors’] concerns.”

Because it is so early in the process, board Chairman Tom Wilson -- who had concerns about the appointment of conservancy directors and the Orange Freeway expansion -- wanted to oppose the bill as written, leaving room to modify the county’s position when the bill is amended. Wilson and Supervisor Charles Smith voted against opposing the bill outright.

“I was disappointed,” Wilson said. “We kind of cast our opinion in cement, and it didn’t seem like we gave the Assemblyman any wiggle room or opportunities to respond to our concerns.”

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San Bernardino and Riverside county officials are considering the bill, which will be heard April 7 by the Assembly’s Natural Resources Committee.


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