Toll road foes off of parks panel
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has dropped his brother-in-law, Bobby Shriver, and fellow action hero Clint Eastwood from the state parks commission after their vigorous opposition helped derail a plan for a toll road through San Onofre State Beach in San Diego County.
The decision not to renew the commissioners’ terms, which expired last week, surprised observers and sent a strong signal that the governor expects loyalty from political appointees.
“This is a warning shot from the governor’s office to all of his appointees: Do what I say, no matter how stupid it is,” said Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Los Angeles. “And I know of no project more destructive to the California coast than this toll road project.”
Shriver, a Santa Monica City Council member and environmentalist who is the brother of California First Lady Maria Shriver, said he received a telephone call Monday from an aide to the governor saying he would not be reappointed.
Shriver and Eastwood had been appointed to the State Park and Recreation Commission under former Gov. Gray Davis and were previously reappointed by Schwarzenegger. A 60-day extension of their terms expired last week.
In an interview, Shriver said he and Eastwood had sought to remain on the board, where they were chairman and vice chairman, respectively, and that their removal would have “a chilling effect” on political appointees.
Eastwood could not be reached for comment. The governor’s office confirmed that he would not be reappointed.
Although the board had no power to quash the Foothill South toll road project, it passed a resolution in November 2005 opposing it and joined a lawsuit pending in state court. Last month, the California Coastal Commission, including some other Schwarzenegger appointees, defied the governor and voted to reject the toll road.
After learning that he would not be reappointed, Shriver spoke to his brother-in-law and had “a spirited disagreement” on the issue.
“It’s a public-protection commission,” Shriver said. “There are jobs that politicians appoint people to that they are not then supposed to do whatever a politician wants.”
He added, “A big road in a park is a hard sell.”
Asked about the toll road Thursday at a public event in Anaheim, Schwarzenegger reiterated his support for a project that is touted by supporters as a means to relieve traffic congestion in Orange County.
“I know the environmentalists are sensitive about it, and they say it is going through a park, but the road has to go through somewhere,” Schwarzenegger said. “We can’t stop progress.”
Aaron McLear, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, said the toll road issue did not precipitate the governor’s decision not to reappoint his relative and the fellow actor. He said the governor wanted new appointees, though none have been chosen.
“The governor believes that both Mr. Shriver and Mr. Eastwood did an outstanding job, and he’s grateful for their service,” McLear said.
Shriver and Eastwood join a list of other spurned appointees.
Bilenda Harris-Ritter, a former member of the state Board of Parole Hearings, said she received a call from a member of the governor’s office a little more than a year ago asking her to resign, six months after she had been appointed. No explanation was given, she said.
The call coincided with an Internet campaign from a crime victims group asking the governor’s office to remove her for granting parole to too many prisoners. Harris-Ritter, a lawyer whose parents were murdered in 1981, is an advocate for victims and said she had followed the law in giving parole.
“When people get yanked off suddenly in situations where it appears it’s just because somebody in the governor’s office doesn’t like the fact that they’re following the law, or a particular vote, that hurts the impression that the governor’s office is being run professionally,” Harris-Ritter said.
In June, the chairman of the state’s Air Resources Board, Robert F. Sawyer, was fired by Schwarzenegger for pushing for antipollution measures beyond what the governor’s office wanted, Sawyer said. The executive director, Catherine Witherspoon, quit in the aftermath.
In September, R. Judd Hanna quit the Fish and Game Commission at the request of an aide to the governor, after Republican lawmakers urged his ouster because he had sought to ban lead bullets in condor territory.
McLear said the governor’s appointees take many actions that probably go against his wishes.
“I think it is far-fetched to suggest that there is a pattern of him removing people or not appointing people to boards or commissions simply because they don’t agree with him,” McLear said.
Caryl O. Hart, a member of the state parks commission from Sebastopol, lamented losing Shriver and Eastwood, who have been strong advocates of parks, at a time when the governor has proposed to drastically cut the parks budget.
“It isn’t only this amusing thing about the Terminator,” she said.