Senate approves Sierra bill |

Senate approves Sierra bill

Staff and wire reports

SACRAMENTO – The Senate on Monday approved creation of a state conservancy to protect the majestic Sierra Nevada, but another environmental bill, which would ban smoking on state beaches, stalled as lawmakers began the last days of their 2004 session.

The conservancy bill, authored by Assemblymen Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, and John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, cleared the Senate on a 21-14 vote and was returned to the Assembly, which approved a somewhat different version of the legislation in May.

“The design of this conservancy is a tremendous victory for the people of the Sierra,” said Leslie, who has represented large portions of Sierra Nevada for nearly two decades. “Not only will the conservancy bring more money to our region, but it will give local residents unprecedented influence in how those funds are used.”

If the Assembly adopts the Senate changes, the legislation will go to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The deadline for action on most bills is Aug. 31, but lawmakers hope to wrap up their 2004 session by Friday to allow Republican legislators to attend the GOP national convention next week in New York.

Leslie and Laird’s legislation would create a state conservancy headed by a 13-member board that would be able to buy conservation easements and make grants and loans to other public agencies, nonprofit organizations and Indian tribes for a variety of activities, including protecting ranch land and open space and promoting recreation and tourism, in the Sierra Nevada.

The Sierra conservancy would join eight others, including two that already cover parts of the Sierra or Sierra foothills – the California Tahoe Conservancy and the San Joaquin River Conservancy.

The bill’s supporters stressed that the conservancy wouldn’t be a land-use regulatory body and would have local input from six Sierra Nevada county supervisors on its board.

“We have conservancies around the state that are designed to protect sensitive areas and serve them,” said Sen. Byron Sher, D-Stanford. “They are not designed in any way to interfere with private property rights. They don’t take property; they work out arrangements with willing sellers of property.”

But Sen. Rico Oller, R-San Andreas, warned that a Sierra conservancy could become something “we who live in the Sierra Nevada will come to regret.”

“While today it may protect the rights of private property owners, these things have a way of becoming something else in fact,” he said. “I’m very apprehensive about it.”

The beach-smoking bill would bar smoking on the sand at state beaches, but allow it in parking lots and campgrounds, unless the local government with jurisdiction over the beach wanted stronger or weaker restrictions.

Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, said the bill was an attempt to protect people “who don’t want smoke blown in their face” and to “cut down the immense cost of cleaning up our beaches.”

Sen. Dennis Hollingsworth, R-La Mesa, said there already is a $1,000 fine for littering. The bill would authorize a $100 fine for smoking. But Kuehl said the littering fine is rarely imposed.

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