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Conservancy official for L.A. and Orange counties to retire

September 29, 2010 | 12:33 pm

Belinda Faustino, executive officer of the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy, a state agency dedicated to preserving open space and habitat in Los Angeles and Orange counties, plans to retire in May.

Faustino, 59, who was recently named “community activist of the year” by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), said, “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while because of salary cuts for state employees -– the checkbook doesn’t balance any more at the end of the month.”

Beyond that, Faustino, whose annual salary was cut by roughly $9,000 to about $84,000, also pointed out that state bond funds for recreation, education and wildlife habitat restoration were becoming “slim pickings these days.”

Of particular concern, the conservancy is currently seeking a $7-million state grant needed to begin construction on a controversial $22-million, 14,000-square foot Discovery Center at the Whittier Narrows wildlife sanctuary in South El Monte.

Opponents contend the project would destroy a rare expanse of critical habitat in eastern Los Angeles County in order to enhance understanding of the San Gabriel River watershed.

Faustino said her decision to step down from the position she had held for eight years was not related to a recent state Department of Finance audit of the conservancy’s use of funding under Proposition 40 and 50 as of June 30, 2008.

The audit concluded that the conservancy and its joint powers entity, the Watershed Conservation Authority, had not exercised adequate fiduciary oversight of bond funds.

Faustino said the audit’s concerns reflected “an interpretive difference of opinions” and had “all been corrected.”

Faustino, who planned to retire in May 2011, said she will remain active in policy work involving habitat and open protection and integrated water management.

-- Louis Sahagun