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A letter from Assemblyman Tim Leslie

Dear County Supervisor,

This letter is to bring to your attention a piece of legislation that, if approved, would have a substantive impact upon your county and constituents.

As you may know, I was asked to consider carrying the original version of the Sierra Nevada Conservancy proposal. Ultimately, I did carry it in the form of AB 1663.

Through interactions with Conservancy advocates, however, as well as through careful examination of my bill, I came to understand that the proposed Conservancy could have significant detrimental effect upon the people who inhabit the Sierra unless changes were made to the governance of the Conservancy’s power. When Conservancy advocates refused to adopt a reasonable system of checks and balances that would guarantee ongoing consideration of local concerns, I decided to drop AB 1663.

The Conservancy proposal has recently resurfaced as AB 1130 (Dickerson and Keeley) in a form that presents at least as many potential dangers as the original measure. Further, it was introduced long after all legislative deadlines had expired, negating any possibility that the Legislature could give the measure adequate deliberation and public airing. Although the Legislature frequently disregards parliamentary rules, it is particularly troubling that this would be done on a matter with such enormous implications.

In addition to the means being employed to advance this proposal, I also have significant concerns regarding the policy itself. I will mention just a few of them:

– Although the legislation expresses the Conservancy’s “goals,” it does not strictly define its actual activities and purpose. For example, the looseness of the language would allow the Conservancy to acquire easements in Roseville, purchase home lots in central Fresno, or even conduct projects along the San Francisco Bay. History has shown that a state entity covering such a vast expanse of land and guided by only vague statutory direction could become almost anything once established.

– In the original Conservancy proposal, 10 of 21 board members were to be appointed by local interests. Under AB 1130, State appointments outnumber local appointments 2 to 1. True, four state appointments must be drawn from within the “region,” (which even would include Fresno, Chico, and Bakersfield City Councils) but these appointees could easily be people who do not hold the priorities or values of most Sierra residents.

– The Conservancy would be allowed to wait up to a year before it decides how it will use lands it buys (i.e. preparing a land-use plan). If the State is going to purchase lands, shouldn’t it know how it will manage them and where management funding will come from before it buys?

– Most importantly, while elements of local involvement are included in this proposal, the vast preponderance of decision-making power is not required to be a combination of state and local concerns. Once a county has opted in to the Conservancy (and it will be very difficult for cash-starved counties to resist) no local buy-in or community support will be necessary for any Conservancy action.

Advocates of this bill say they have no desire to run roughshod over the wishes of the communities they will be impacting. If they are sincere in this, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to refrain from statutorily requiring local approval of all Conservancy activities within that community.

Some argue that this decision-making process would be unconventional for a state Conservancy. However, this would be an unconventional Conservancy, covering the geography and issues of a land mass larger than many states! Others claim that actually requiring the Conservancy to collaborate with locals would limit the state’s control over state funds. This argument is specious. Such a requirement would limit the state only to the extent that it wanted to totally disregard local concerns. It would not enable local officials to force the Conservancy to do anything it did not wish to do.

If a local community has concerns about Conservancy actions in their backyard, I have yet to hear a satisfactory reason why anyone would want the Conservancy to have the power to override those concerns. Surely there will not be a shortage of projects for the Conservancy to do elsewhere. The only reason not to guarantee a local say is that outside environmentalists want to have to the prerogative, when necessary, to dictate local policies.

There are two options. Either we establish a Sierra Conservancy that can and will pave over local concerns, or we ensure that local concerns are always considered. The current form of this measure does not do so, and so I respectfully urge your opposition to it until it includes statutory guarantee of ongoing consideration of local concerns and its other shortfalls are repaired. AB 1130 will be heard next in Senate Natural Resources and Wildlife on August 6.

Sincerely,

TIM LESLIE

Assemblyman, 4th District


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