Anthony Bielenson—1932-2017

Anthony Bielenson at the official opening in June 2012 of the Anthony C. Bielenson Interagency Visitor Center named for him. Photo by Diane Addison for SMMC

Former congressman Anthony Beilenson, 84, passed away on Sunday, March 5. He had suffered a heart attack last month, according to the Los Angeles Times.

He was known for his decades of service in state and national politics, including his sponsorship of the 1978 law that created the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

“A giant has left us,” former Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky tweeted upon getting word of Beilenson’s death. “Tony Beilenson was a classy political figure. His legacy is all around us.”

Beilenson grew up in New York and attended Harvard University before moving to California in the late 1950s. He was first elected to the state Assembly in 1962 representing Beverly Hills and West Los Angeles, and served in Congress from 1976 to 1996, representing parts of the San Fernando Valley, Thousand Oaks and Agoura Hills.

His 1978 legislation created a wilderness protection area that stretches from the Hollywood Hills to Point Mugu. He also helped secure funding for Lake Balboa Park and the Sepulveda Basin Wildlife Refuge.

“If you look from the Valley to the Santa Monica Mountains and you see green as opposed to buildings, think of Anthony Beilenson, the father of the Santa Monica Mountains Recreation Area,” said Joseph T. Edmiston, executive director of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

Beilenson was a Democrat who championed abortion rights and the environment, but he was not always easy to categorize. He voted against creating the federal Department of Education, preferring to leave education to the states, and opposed making Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday a national holiday, saying he didn’t think federal workers needed another day off, The Times reported.

Beilenson retired rather than run for another term in 1996, blaming what he saw as the increased partisan rancor in Washington.

“What has really bothered me about the congressional environment now is all this ideological and mindless politics,” he said then. “Moderate, sensible, middle-of-the-road resolutions of issues seem no longer possible.”

It was that quality—what Yaroslavsky called Beilenson’s “intellectual and political independence”—that marked the longtime supervisor’s recollections of his longtime friend, who was also one of his earliest political idols.

“He was a gentleman and the kind of person who could get along with anybody,” Yaroslavsky told City News Service. “In an era in which political divisions are so calcified, this was a man who could cross the aisle in a heartbeat and … come to some kind of consensus.”

Yaroslavsky fondly remembered receiving a letter from Beilenson—then a state lawmaker—congratulating him on his high school graduation. “It was the first letter I ever received from a public official,” he said.

Decades later, the congressman and the county supervisor were in Yaroslavsky’s office on Oct. 3, 1995, working on wilderness preservation issues and watching nonstop TV coverage of that morning’s verdict in the O.J. Simpson murder trial. “OK, enough of that—let’s get back to what we’re here for,” Yaroslavsky remembers Beilenson saying.

Yaroslavsky said Beilenson tried to convince him to run for his seat in Congress in 1996, but Yaroslavsky had just been elected to the Board of Supervisors and the timing wasn’t right.

Yaroslavsky, now the director of the Los Angeles Initiative at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and Department of History, said he and his wife occasionally had dinner with Beilenson and his wife Dolores, with their last phone contact occurring about eight weeks ago. “… I think of the oak grove that we were able to save, and I think of Tony as an oak, as well,” Yaroslavsky said. “His legacy is his legislation, the mountains he saved, the old growth he preserved. It’s the greatest legacy you could have as a public official.”


Courtesy of City News Service


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