As the secretary of the interior during the Clinton administration, Bruce Babbitt enacted legislature to preserve large tracts of land in California, restore the Everglades in Florida and bring endangered animals back from the brink of extinction.
On Friday night, 20 protesters from several environmental groups stood outside Campbell Hall where Babbitt was giving a lecture titled “An Environmental Agenda for the 21st Century” and called him a traitor to environmentalism and a sellout.
Environmental organizations, including the Sierra Club, Save Open Space and EcoSlo, oppose Babbitt’s involvement as a lobbyist for developers of the Ahmanson Ranch in Ventura County and Hearst Ranch in San Simeon.
“Bruce Babbitt says he’s an environmentalist when the reality is he’s sold himself out,” Sierra Club organizer Ariana Katovichsaid. “I think Bruce Babbitt is a hypocrite and shouldn’t be speaking for an environmental agenda.”
Babbit said in his lecture that he was acting as an intermediary between environmentalists and developers. After serving as interior secretary, he joined Latham and Watkins, a law firm that represents Washington Mutual. The bank owns the 3,000-acre Ahmanson ranch near the Santa Monica mountains and plans to build a community of shops and 3,050 homes that would house approximately 8,000 people.
An environmental impact report was completed for the project in 1992 and the project was approved. But in 1999, two endangered species – the San Fernando spine flower, thought to be extinct since 1929, and the California red-legged frog – were discovered.
“Since the spine flower was presumed to be extinct at the time, it was discovered we had no legal obligations to protect it,” Washington Mutual spokesman Tim McGarry said. “But we felt we had an ethical obligation to protect.”
To save the species, McGarry said biologists are breeding the red-legged frog and reintroducing the frog into its historical habitat. The biologists, who work for Washington Mutual, would try to create a new habitat in the 10,000 acres the bank has already donated to the state.
Rally to Save Ahmanson Ranch Executive Director Tsilah Burman said environmental groups are also concerned about the 23 tons of dust the construction is expected to put in the air. She said Washington Mutual has also not considered the pollutants that will be discharged from he community as well as traffic congestion. The California Dept. of Transportation predicted the project would put 40,000 more cars on Highway 101 every day.