Associated Press Reports: Senate Panel Approves Conservancy Bill

Senate panel approves bill creating Sierra Nevada Conservancy STEVE LAWRENCE, Associated Press Writer Tuesday, June 29, 2004 (06-29) 14:54 PDT SACRAMENTO (AP) — Legislation that would create a Sierra Nevada Conservancy to buy and protect land in the Sierra and Cascade ranges was approved Tuesday by a Senate committee, but the author described it as a work in progress that could come back to the panel. The Natural Resources Committee voted 6-3 to approve the bill, which sent it to the Appropriations Committee and allowed it to keep up with legislative deadlines. But the author, Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, said he was still discussing amendments with the Schwarzenegger administration, and he promised to bring the bill back to the committee if there were substantial changes. One likely change would be to add local representatives to the conservancy board, which the bill now says would be run by a 10-member board of state and federal government representatives. The conservancy, modeled after a series of similar agencies, would have the power to buy and manage lands and make loans and grants for various purposes, including protecting resources, promoting tourism and enhancing recreation. California has created eight conservancies since 1973 covering different areas of the state, including the coast, the San Francisco Bay area and the Santa Monica Mountains. Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, urged the committee to approve the bill, although he said there was a “lot of resistance and hesitancy” among local residents about the legislation because large segments of the mountains are already in government hands. “There is a little fear about creating a structure that could put more land in public ownership,” he said. But a “properly structured” conservancy would give mountain residents “a new ability to have a say-so in prioritizing the needs of the Sierra,” he added. Despite the support of a fellow Republican, Sen. Rico Oller of San Andreas said the bill “is going to have a dramatically negative impact…, not just on the personal freedom of individuals but on legitimate functions of local government.” But Sen. Byron Sher, D-Stanford, noted that the conservancy would not have eminent domain powers to force landowners to sell their property. “It's a little bit of this and a little bit of that,” said Leslie. “It's a new state agency without regulatory authority or government power or the right of eminent domain.” Other critics said the bill should in some way compensate local governments for lost property tax revenue when the conservancy buys land and takes it out of private ownership. Supporters say the conservancy is needed to protect ranch land, historic sites and other resources as the mountains' population booms over the next 30 to 40 years.