“Sierra Nevada Conservancy in the Works,” Tahoe Daily Tribune

June 11, 2004

The California Farm Bureau Federation is against it, but Gov. Schwarzenegger, business owners and Assemblyman Tim Leslie support it.

Two bills have been introduced, one by Leslie, R-Tahoe City, that would create a conservancy to dole out money for projects that protect the 400-mile stretch of pristine mountain country that is the Sierra Nevada.

The region encompasses a third of the state and supplies about 65 percent of its drinking water, according to The Sierra Fund, a nonprofit group in Nevada City fighting to establish the conservancy.

Tahoe has had its own conservancy since 1984. With funds generated through public bonds, California Tahoe Conservancy delivers about $20 million a year in grant money to local governments on the California side of the Lake Tahoe Basin. The money is spent to conserve land as open space, install drainage systems that will help protect Lake Tahoe, and improve recreation.

A bill to create a Sierra Nevada conservancy, which would not eliminate the California Tahoe Conservancy, failed two years ago after Gov. Davis vetoed it.

This time around, legislation to create the organization has momentum because Gov. Schwarzenegger has said he wants to see the conservancy, the state's ninth, established during the first year of his term. The bills were approved by the Assembly last month.

The Senate Natural Resource Committee is expected to act on one or both bills – Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Rosa, introduced the other bill – when it meets June 22.

Leslie has been working closely with the state Resources Agency to make sure all the spending power doesn't fall into the lap of the state, according to Jedd Medefind, Leslie's chief of staff.

“From Assemblyman Leslie's perspective, local communities need to have a strong voice not only to ensure they are not taken advantage of but also to ensure that most effective conservation is carried out,” Medefind said. “Effective conservation is built on collaboration not imposition.”

Medefind said that Leslie is not against combining his bill with Laird's, but if local communities fail to adequately be represented in whatever bill gets heard, Leslie will “fight actively against” the creation of a conservancy for the Sierra Nevada.

California Farm Bureau Federation opposes both bills because the conservancy would mean less privately owned land and deprive local government of property tax revenue.

“Over 70 percent of the Sierra Nevada is already owned by the government,” said John Gamper, director of taxation and land use for the California Farm Bureau Federation. “If they continue to acquire private land it will eventually take its toll … and mean a loss of tax base. We think it is not a good idea, especially during very difficult fiscal times, for the state to create another state bureaucracy.”

Elizabeth Martin, of The Sierra Fund, has pushed for the creation of a Sierra Nevada Conservancy for almost five years and says she is confident the governor will approve the legislation this year.

“It has no regulatory authority,” Martin said. “All it really does is give money away.