Voice for the Sierra – Legislators back conservancy to bring money into mountains
Sierra officials see more money and clout for the mountain range following the California Assembly’s overwhelming passage Wednesday of the Sierra Conservancy bill.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the bill into law before Sept. 30. The governor endorsed the idea earlier and had staff members participate in the bipartisan compromise version that passed 54-14.
“It’s a new voice for how the state will invest in the Sierra Nevada,” said former Nevada County Supervisor Izzy Martin. She is now with the Sierra Fund, which sponsored the legislation.
Martin said the conservancy will fight for state tax dollars, “for all kinds of projects,” from stormwater management to protection of wetlands for biological diversity and firebreaks.
“It’s the first time the Sierra will have an official voice on how state money is invested in the Sierra,” said Jim Sayer, president of the Sierra Business Council. “Before, it was done in Sacramento.”
Sayer said the council’s research found other regions around the state such as the Pacific coast were landing tax dollars for conservation projects because they had conservancies. The Sierra was getting about 1 percent, the business council found.
“That was amazing because the Sierra supplies more than 60 percent of the state’s water supply, and one-third to one-half of the timber,” Sayer said. The mountains are also one of the top tourist attractions in the country, he said.
State Sen. Sam Aanestad, R-Grass Valley, who lives in Alta Sierra opposed the bill in a recent committee vote, fearing it would undermine land and water rights. Aanestad’s office did not respond for comment.
Assemblyman Tim Leslie, R-Tahoe City, who used to represent Nevada County in the Senate, initially opposed the conservancy idea when it was proposed by Assemblyman John Laird, D-Santa Cruz. But Leslie said he got involved in the plan to make sure private property rights and Sierra counties land use control were protected.
Leslie’s Chief of Staff Jedd Medefind said Leslie got those protections in the compromised version of the bill he hammered out with Laird. The bill ensures Sierra lands remain on local tax roles and under local land use rules, Medefind said.
The bill also says the conservancy has no power over water rights that do not belong to it, Medefind said. Leslie also got his wish to include county supervisors on the conservancy board.
The bill awaiting the governor’s signature calls for a 13-member board with six Sierra supervisors, two members appointed by the legislature and five more picked by Schwarzenegger. Laird’s version had no county supervisors.
Leslie compromised on the boundary of the conservancy, which started out as the Sierra proper. It now goes from the Pit River watershed in the far northeastern part of the state into Kern County in the south.
Martin and Medefind said the governor’s office will now have to fit the conservancy into the next budget for 2005-06.
According to a state Senate Appropriations Committee analysis, the conservancy will need $655,000 in start-up costs and another $100,000 when a deputy attorney general is assigned to it. The annual operating cost could increase to $10 million as the conservancy grows and begins to fund grants, loans and projects, the analysis said.
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