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Babbitt May Face Protesters
Santa Barbara News-Press
By Melinda Burns
October 5, 2001

Politics: Former Secretary of Interior to speak at UCSB on environmental agenda for 21st Century

Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior who won praise from environmentalists for his large-scale conservation projects, may be picketed by environmentalists tonight as he speaks at UCSB.

The demonstrators say they are trying to stop two developments for which Mr. Babbitt is a consultant: The Ahmanson Ranch in eastern Ventura County, where more than 3,000 homes, a hotel, stores, offices, schools, a library and two golf courses are proposed on the north side of the Santa Monica Mountains; and the Hearst Ranch at San Simeon in San Luis Obispo County, where the owners are seeking development rights for 297 lots, based on maps that were drawn up more than a century ago.

Mr. Babbitt's lecture is entitled "An Environmental Agenda for the 21st Century." He will speak at 5 p.m. at Campbell Hall.

"It's really hypocritical for Bruce Babbitt to be talking about an environmental agenda," said Tsilah Burman, the executive director for Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch, a Los Angeles-area coalition organizing the picket. "We're outraged. We feel he's sold himself off to the developers. Based on his record in the Interior Department, you would have expected something else."

A spokeswoman at the Washington, D.C., law offices of Latham & Watkins, Mr. Babbitt's employer, said he was unavailable for media interviews this week. Through the law firm, Mr. Babbitt is serving as an adviser for both the Hearst Ranch and Washington Mutual Bank, the owner of the Ahmanson Ranch.

In recent interviews with the Los Angeles Times, Mr. Babbitt defended the Ahmanson Ranch project as a model solution for Southern California's housing needs, one that he said would help set aside open space and create 1,700 jobs.

He also told the Times that it was "good, proper and correct" for developers to maximize the value of their land by using old maps, as Hearst was proposing to do.

"We call this 'greenwash,'" said Ariana Katovich of Isla Vista, who works for the national Sierra Club and is planning to picket. "His agenda is to exploit and find loopholes in the law to develop land to the fullest extent."

Mr. Babbitt served eight years as Secretary of the Interior in the Clinton administration. Under his leadership, a restoration plan was drafted for the Florida Everglades. The historic California Bay-Delta water accord was signed. The Carrizo Plaines in San Luis Obispo Count was declared a national monument.

Mr. Babbitt helped enact the California Desert Protection Act. He also negotiated the largest land swap in the history of the lower 48 states, to protect the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and other parks in Utah.

He breathed new life into the Endangered Species Act with recovery plans that saved several species from the brink of extinction.

In 1999, however, Mr. Babbitt found himself at odds with environmentalists in Santa Barbara County for extending the life of 36 offshore oil leases, just as they were about to expire. Mr. Babbitt's decision is now the subject of a lawsuit by the state Coastal Commission.