Grass Valley Union: Conservancy Compromise in the Works

Sierra Conservancy deal up for debate
Lawmakers discuss compromise plan next week

A compromise is being drafted for the proposed Sierra Conservancy, and legislators plan to tackle the issue next week.

The deal for an idea and funding clearinghouse between Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Roseville, and Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, has been endorsed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The conservancy would not be a regulatory body but would try to attract money, expertise and business to the Sierra, according to companion bills from both assemblymen. It might also set up land purchases to preserve portions of the mountain range.

Jed Medifind, Leslie's chief of staff, said the compromise bill leans towards Leslie's firm stance for Sierra representation and Laird's boundaries for the nonprofit.

“There would be a 13-member board, with six of them elected supervisors from the Sierra,” Medifind said Wednesday. The boundaries would be to the watersheds that go south, which are the Sacramento and Susan rivers in northeastern California.

Leslie had called for a 20-member board in his version of the bill, with 10 members from the Sierra and six picked by the governor, three of whom had to hail from the area. Laird's bill called for a seven-member board selected by various state elected officials and three nonvoting members from the U.S. Forest Service, BLM and National Park Service, with no mention of Sierra representation.

The revised bill will hit the appropriations committee next Tuesday or Wednesday, Medifind said. If it survives, he said, “the Senate floor will be the biggest debate” for the conservancy.

“I expect there will be amendment language available by Friday,” said Laird staffer Clyde MacDonald.

“The conservancy is based on the theory that it's going to happen anyway, so let's do it right,” Leslie said.

Leslie, who once represented Nevada County in the state Senate, said he insisted on local representation for the conservancy. For instance, if a county Board of Supervisors opposes a land transaction within its borders, “that would be the end of it,” Leslie said.

Laird's people are talking about taking it a step further by saying the conservancy would not have the authority to buy land at all, Leslie said.

“It's not a bad idea if local viewpoint comes in,” Leslie said. The assemblyman said he will have difficulty getting some of his fellow Republicans to back the compromise bill, but he is glad for the governor's support.

“I don't know if Laird can bring the Democrats along or not,” Leslie said.

The Sierra Fund in Nevada County has been sponsoring Laird's version of the bill, which vaguely extended the boundaries to the Cascade Range. Former South Yuba River Citizens League Executive Director Shawn Garvey is president of the fund and former county Supervisor Izzy Martin is the director of Integrated Sierra Investment Strategies there.

“We're looking for a Sierra Conservancy by September,” Garvey said.

Garvey said the conservancy notion came with the realization that there was no single group looking out of the region's prosperity. Money for parks and water has flowed to urban areas with political muscle in recent years, and the Sierra needs an entity to compete, Garvey said.

The conservancy “gives us a tool to focus our resources and investment up here,” Garvey said. “It creates an agency in which local participation is required.”

“The Sierra is one of the largest and most special sections of the state and the country,” Laird said. “The bond money spent in the Sierra now is from decisions made at the state level. This allows locals to be involved.”

The Sierra has never had a central conservancy to obtain state money, grants and expertise for the entire range. However, the state does have other conservancies, including ones for the coast, Lake Tahoe and the L.A. basin.