By Sue Pascoe
Speaking at the Temescal Canyon Association annual meeting on Dec. 4, State Senator Ben Allen reassured his audience that he shares their concerns about assaults on environmental safeguards by the federal government.
“I’m working to find ways to protect our home environment,” said Allen, who has represented the 26th District (which includes Pacific Palisades) since 2014.
Allen, a Democrat, is co-chair of the environmental caucus in Sacramento and chair of the Education Committee and the legislature’s Joint Committee on the Arts. He is also a member of the Elections and Constitutional Amendments, Natural Resources and Water and Transportation and Housing committees.
“I went hiking with my father in these mountains every weekend,” the Santa Monica resident said during his keynote talk in Temescal Gateway Park. “For me growing up in a city, these mountains were a god-send. I was part of a Boy Scout troop and we came up in these mountains, too.”
Allen noted that the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area was established in 1978—“the year I was born,” which may have been a good omen for why environmental issues became important to him. “We live in a wild time right now,” Allen said. “As of October, the New York Times reported that of the Trump Administration has sought to reverse more than 50 environmental regulations and rulings, and that 25 have been overturned already, including the Keystone pipeline, mining and oil-drilling restrictions and restraints on greenhouse gas emissions.”
He also noted that the United States is now the only country in the world that has rejected the Paris Climate Agreement, designed to limit carbon emissions.
“We need to pull together a bipartisan coalition for the environment,” said Allen, who authored SB 249 to regulate off-highway vehicles and prevent them from dam- aging natural resources in state parks and to ensure that grant funding goes toward enforcement and restoration.
He emphasized that California should continue to play a leadership role by striving to protect the environment in this state, while serving as a national example of what can happen when both political parties work together for proactive solutions.
For example, President Trump is scaling back two National Monuments in Utah (Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante), but Allen wrote prescient legislation that was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown and will take effect on January 1. The law, a preemptive move, would allow the state to have the first right of refusal to buy any land discarded or sold by federal officials. (There are about 45.8 million acres of federally controlled land inside California’s borders.)
“Nearly everyone cares about environmental protections within my district,” said Allen, a Harvard graduate who received a law degree from UC Berkeley in 2008. “It’s going to take determination to stand up” [for these protections].
The senator is also focused on campaign financial reform, including efforts to inform voters about “where a candidate’s money is coming from and where the money is spent,” he said.
Allen was the author of SB 651, which then went through the Assembly as AB 249 and was signed by Governor Brown in October. “We finally got it passed,” Allen said.
The law will require ballot-measure ads and independent expenditure ads for or against candidates to clearly and prominently disclose the identity of their top-three financial contributors, including on petitions.
“People should know who is paying people to get your signature on petitions,” Allen said.
He then opened the floor for questions and was asked about the status of the long- awaited Liberty Canyon Wildlife Crossing (across the 101 Freeway in Agoura Hills) and how to get it done faster.
“Caltrans is the contractor and they hope to get it done by 2020,” Allen said. “It’s just taking a long time to get the money together.”
“The mountain lions could be gone by then,” said TCA President Gil Dembo.
Allen was sympathetic, but pointed out, “I’ve been heckled for spending taxpayer dollars to protect a predator cat.”
He urged wildlife advocates to keep pressuring legislators and political bodies for action. “Keep up the advocacy, keep banging the drums, show up at meetings. It takes sustained activism,” Allen said.
“Will the high-speed rail be built?” he was asked.
Allen said that he liked the idea of high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco, through the Central Valley, but “It’s reached the point that it’s hard to justify the cost, especially when you think what that money could be used for.”
Asked about the possibility that State Parks might grant a portion of Los Leones Gateway Park for a much-needed Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation, Allen said his understanding was that State Parks had already told LADWP, “No.”