By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
The current directorial transition apparently originates in Sacramento, though state Resources Secretary Mary Nichols, who appoints the board members, said that ”It is absolutely not true“ that there‘s any intention to meld the two conservancies.
Meanwhile, Edmiston issued a celebratory e-mail in which he proclaimed that Faustinos’ ”interim“ takeover from Angle was ”truly good news for the RMC and for the conservancy movement in general.“ The online Edmiston added that his own conservancy‘s next board meeting would ”be preceded by a gala party for Belinda.“
Edmiston, in a telephone interview, vowed that ”Belinda would be independent. Of course, I’d be there to answer the phone if she called for help on certain details.“ Edmiston lauded Faustinos‘ qualifications and experience, which include her Eastside work on a Whittier-area flyway project. Even Edmiston’s critics call Faustinos an effective and popular official.
Angle herself worked for Edmiston before taking the director‘s job; sources say the two ended up mutually unimpressed. Edmiston, however, is a major political dynamo, whom the Daily News called ”perhaps the state’s most powerful and well-connected non-elected official.“ Over 20 years, his conservancy has presided over the acquisition of more than seven square miles of public lands -- worth over $200 million -- for park and recreation purposes, from Camarillo to the Whittier Hills. ”Joe is very good at what he does,“ said Los Angeles City Councilwoman Ruth Galanter. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky has said that if Edmiston ”were a real estate developer, he‘d be a billionaire.“ But money isn’t everything. Even Eli Broad probably hasn‘t got the city, county and Sacramento clout Edmiston has -- let alone his own sworn, armed police force in bottle-green uniforms, plus executive offices in one of the conservancy’s prime (and most controversial) acquisitions: Barbra Streisand‘s old Malibu estate.
Most Edmiston critics won’t talk on the record. One who does is Sue Nelson, executive director of the Friends of the Santa Monica Mountains, Parks and Seashore, the conservancy‘s predecessor. That group was formed to oppose a 1960s freeway proposal through those very mountains down to a four-level interchange with a tentative coastal interstate in Malibu Lagoon. Outraged early environmentalists like Nelson allied with local landowners to fight the scheme. As a result, the conservancy was legislated as an agency to save such undeveloped ”open space“ via state, federal and private funding. Since then, the Santa Monica agency has outgrown its designated region and, Nelson contends, become politicized: ”Joe’s become a broker between the community that doesn‘t want growth and the owners who want to unload their properties.“
The result, she contends, has been both over-expansion and a consequent failure to consummate vital acquisitions within the original Santa Monica Mountains area. The agency’s fiscal fortunes have seesawed. The Santa Monica conservancy had a reported $80 million budget in the late ‘80s. But according to the Daily News, it was running on a $300,000 emergency state allocation by late 1999. Yet the list of illustrious acquisitions and the area of influence keep expanding.
Which is why Edmiston critics claim Faustinos’ appointment is the Edmiston camel‘s nose under the RMC’s tent.
”Belinda‘s never had any independent authority,“ one critic said. In any case, the abrupt transition at the RMC seems to have left some of its board members tongue-tied. Said member Margaret Clark, a Rosemead city councilwoman, ”I wish I hadn’t answered the phone . . . if I said I was pleased with the transition, I‘d sound like I was criticizing Mary’s work. Which I won‘t do.“
At last Friday’s hearing, board member Paul Yost of the League of Conservation Voters queried the action‘s haste -- ”I’m not confident that this deserves [being] an emergency addition to our agenda“ -- although he voted for the change.
The unanimous action was so hasty that Faustinos ended up with a temporary appointment as ”administrative consultant,“ pending the need for another month to make her director‘s appointment legal.
Brea Councilwoman and board member Beth Perry said the Faustinos appointment was suggested by state Resources Secretary Nichols herself. Perry said she looked forward to working with Faustinos, who may bring some of her own staff. ”Mary [Angle] did good work for us, but she wanted to move on . . . It’s a win-win situation for everyone.‘’
Angle‘s problem may have been that, however successful she was in planning acquisitions and organizing the benchmark report, she was unable to maintain support of all of her board’s members and get staff to meet those members‘ diverse demands. Angle declined to go beyond saying that “In this job, I had to please officials of over 60 cities, two counties, the state and federal government. [Doing this] with just one paid assistant was not possible.” Colonna said of the board’s relationship with Angle: “We did a lot of growing up together.”
The slightly contradictory board consensus expressed at Friday‘s hearing was that Angle did an excellent job, but Faustinos could better carry on. Richard Ruiz, an environmental consultant and board member, said: “Mary brought an incredible amount of passion to the job and got an incredible amount done. We owe her a lot. But now we may need a different set of skills.”