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Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Publisher’s Notebook:

Has the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy Lost Its Edge?


Did Joe Edmiston, top ranger of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, really not expect to see the kinds of stories that appeared in print, on the air and across the Internet announcing the million-dollar package he brokered with David Evans, a land speculator who finds time to play rock guitar as The Edge?
Edmiston may be so used to his rank and file rallying behind him that he confuses support with subservience, and believes he is impervious to criticism. But really, isn’t the SMMC executive director behaving in a way that any student of organization theory would recognize, putting his agency’s well-being over its principles?
Organization theory holds that once an organism or entity forms, no matter how lofty its original purpose, the primary goal becomes self-perpetuation, in short, survival. California is in tough financial straits, and if Edmiston is to maintain his political power, he wants the wherewithal to function as he did when times were flush.
Not only that, he may think he has figured out a way to do this and diss Malibu at the same time. Edmiston doesn’t say the word “Malibu,” he snarls it, usually accompanied by facial expressions and body language reserved for the ninth circle of Dante’s Inferno.
Edmiston revels in hyperbole about the evil rich folk of Malibu and has always ignored the reality that many local residents laud and enable public land acquisition, and they support public access to these holdings.
Instead, it now turns out that Edmiston is the one being dissed up and down the state. Even some of his most ardent supporters are asking whether Edmiston met his match in the best lawyers a rocker fortune can buy. The SMMC gets nothing if Evans doesn’t get everything he wants delivered on a silver platter.
Readers can judge for themselves the terms that must be met before SMMC gets a penny:
Final Approval of a Project means that the Project, as conditioned by the California Coastal Commission or other administrative or regulatory body and as accepted by the applicants has received approvals from all government agencies (including but not limited to the California Coastal Commission, the City of Malibu, the County of Los Angeles and the Regional Water Quality Control Board) which is final and not appealable, (ii) all judicial challenges or administrative appeals are resolved in favor of the Projects and (iii) the statute of limitations for challenging any of the approvals of the Projects has run. Notwithstanding the foregoing, if one or more of the project applicants does not seek to obtain final approval of that applicant’s Sweetwater Mesa Project, [the public benefits program] shall vest if all of the remaining applicants receive Final Approval of their respective Sweetwater Mesa Projects.
There is no small amount of incredulity that these terms were accepted by someone viewed as a quintessential Machiavellian who could maneuver any circumstances to his advantage. Has he boxed the SMMC into a corner with conditions that neutralize (or maybe neuter is a better verb) the conservancy, as the board members’ extremely close vote may reflect?
One of Edmiston’s primary public policy strengths has been a sense of moral superiority over those who oppose him. Without that high ground, he no longer has the edge (pun intended) he had when standing up for the disenfranchised who are deprived of access to public recreation and need a voice to speak out on their behalf.
One of the responses Edmiston has used when self-interested elitists were shooting slings and arrows his way was to stand up, assume his Smokey Bear stance, look them straight in the eye, and say, “I sleep the sleep of the just.” Now some are asking, “Just what?”

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