A behind-the-scenes effort targeting the South Coast Air Quality Management
District (SCAQMD) would eliminate term limits for board chairman William
Burke and boost the clout of two-dozen cities in western Los Angeles County.
The dispute has prompted a full-court press by blue-chip lobbying firms, and
highlights Burke’s powerful allies in Sacramento.
“This is the biggest fight in the Capitol that no one knows about,” said one
ranking legislative staffer.
At issue is the governance and scope of the SCAQMD, the air-pollution
fighter with jurisdiction over the vast, five-county Los Angeles basin that
includes the city of Los Angeles and 157 smaller cities. The dispute–one of
several that has surfaced in the waning days of the 2005-06 legislative
session–also features a maneuver involving Burke, the husband of Los Angeles
County Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke, to strengthen his leadership
over the powerful, 12-member panel.
Two bills are involved:
The first, by Simon Salinas, D-Salinas, would eliminate the current two-term
limit for the SCAQMD chairperson beginning next January. Salinas’ AB 2804,
an urgency bill, speedily emerged from the Assembly on May 31 in an 80-0
vote. The provision, dealing with the chairperson’s term limits, was tucked
into the tail of the bill, which focuses mostly on expense reimbursements
for members of the Sacramento air-quality board, and went virtually
unnoticed in the Capitol. As of Tuesday night, Salinas–who lists his bills
on his Assembly Web site–did not include AB 2804, which would apply directly
to Burke. He declined to discuss the issue with Capitol Weekly.
Burke, a political ally of L.A. City Council member and former Assembly
speaker Herb Wesson, is a significant and controversial political figure in
Los Angeles. He is a member of the California Coastal Commission, and sought
the chairmanship of that panel but was blocked by the Capitol’s top
leadership–Assembly Speaker Fabian N