News

Murray once again tries to help political ally

Call it an end-of-session special. A powerful committee chairman has snuck a
provision into a bill to help his political ally–without the knowledge of
the bill’s author.

Sen. Kevin Murray, D-Culver City, chairman of the powerful Senate
Appropriations Committee, has once again gone to bat for William Burke,
chairman of the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD). For
the second time, Murray has inserted a provision allowing Burke to serve
another term as chairman of the (SCAQMD) into an unrelated bill.

The move to extend Burke’s tenure on the commission was originally part of a
measure introduced by termed-out Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas. It
was taken out of that bill after a story on the term-limit extension
appeared in Capitol Weekly last week.

But the favor for Burke found its way back into legislation. This time, the
unwitting author was another termed-out Assemblyman, Joe Baca, D-Rialto.
The measure was inserted into Baca’s AB 1457 Wednesday without Baca’s
knowledge.

Murray did not immediately return calls seeking comment.

The amendments are not yet in print, but were approved hastily by the
committee Wednesday after being introduced by Murray.

The bill, which would give the city of San Bernardino the right to develop
land deeded to the city by the state, is at the top of Baca’s priority list
this year. The bill cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee after the
amendments were added. It will up next on the Senate floor.

Baca was unavailable for comment on the amendments.

Without the change in the law, Burke would be forced to give up the
chairmanship this year.

Earlier this week, the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management
District (SMAQMD) hailed the removal of the Burke provision from Salinas’
bill.

The bill “has been returned to the clean, non-controversial form” that had
been approved earlier in the Assembly, said Larry Greene, the district’s air
pollution control officer. Greene’s note, in the form of a “Floor Alert” to
the Senate and Assembly, urged lawmakers to support the newly amended bill,
AB 2804, by Assemblyman Simon Salinas, D-Salinas.

Salinas’ bill, which originally dealt with routine expense-reimbursement
issues, received little interest in the Capitol and appeared destined for
quick approval. It was approved 80-0 in the Assembly.

On August 17, Capitol Weekly reported that the bill had been changed in the
Senate to remove the term limits on the SCAQMD chairperson, effective
January 1, 2007–a provision that applied specifically to Burke, a
controversial figure in Los Angeles politics and the husband of Supervisor
Yvonne Braithwaite Burke.

The disputed provision was removed four days later, Greene said.

Under current law, the chairperson of the SCAQMD can serve a maximum of two
consecutive two-year terms. Burke has served as chairman several times since
he was appointed to the board in 1993–from August 1997 to December 1999,
from January 2000 to December 2001, and from January through December in
2003. He was elected chairman in January 2004, a term that ends this year.

Burke also is a member of the California Coastal Commission (CCC) and served
on the Air Resources Board. He withdrew from consideration for an
appointment to another powerful panel, the commission that governs the Los
Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP), after a legal opinion raised
questions about potential conflicts stemming from his sitting on both the
DWP and the SCAQMD board at the same time.

He earlier sought the chairmanship of the CCC, but was blocked after the
governor and the leaders of the Senate and Assembly–who together appoint the
Commission’s members–moved behind the scenes to block the move.

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. The founder of the L.A. Marathon, Burke’s political allies
include Sen. Kevin Murray, the powerful head of the Senate Appropriations
Committee.

Earlier, Richard Katz, a member of the Metropolitan Transportation
Authority, questioned the wisdom of removing term limits for the SCAQMD
chairperson only.

“If you are going to eliminate term limits, it should be across the aboard,
as opposed to one office or the other. It should be for all people in
similar positions on boards and commissions,” said Katz, a former Assembly
member.


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