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California State Parks, Climate Resilience Programs Facing Budget Axe

California poppies blooming at Montana de Oro State Park in the Morro Bay area.
Docentjoyce / flickr
California poppies blooming at Montana de Oro State Park in the Morro Bay area.

On Thursday Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a revised budget proposal following the impacts of the coronavirus, and it comes with possible major cuts and reductions across environmental sectors, including climate resilience programs to state parks.

The largest proposed environmental investment is allotted to Cal Fire and California State Parks could lose millions. Around $6.7 billion goes to the Natural Resources Agency, which deals with the frontlines of climate change — wildfires, droughts, floods, and sea-level rise.

When it comes to cap-and-trade, the budget prioritizes air quality in disadvantaged communities, forest health and safe and affordable drinking water. The expenditure plan includes $965 million, but the budget notes auction proceeds could be smaller because “greenhouse gases have decreased significantly.”

Flood projects representing $83.3 million will continue on projects on the American River, the Salton Sea and the New River in Calexico.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is facing a $33.7 million reduction, but prioritizes restoration work and management of wildlife areas.

The budget cuts LiDAR, technology that measures the snowpack from the sky, and withdraws $40 million from the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. But it notes that the Department of Water Resources could use $26 million of Proposition 68 (passed by voters in 2018 to create new parks and recreation activities) funds to critically overdrafted basins.

State Parks
The budget also proposes major changes to California State Parks. It keeps $24.5 million for establishing a new state park, expanding parks, improving facilities and programming.

“This is a department that's actually suffering a very, very large reduction” in fines and entrances fees because of the pandemic, said Keely Bosler, the governor’s finance director.

But it cuts a $20 million outdoor equity program and includes a base reduction of $30 million of general fund dollars from California State Parks to begin in 2021-22.

“While we are disappointed by the cuts, the reality is we aren’t surprised – parks funding has too often been first on the chopping block during financial hardships,” said Rachel Norton, Executive Director of California State Parks Foundation.

The budget also proposes a funding shift of $95 million from the Indian Heritage Center to lease revenue bonds, loans made to the state repaid by revenue made from the project. The state parks system could receive $45 million for deferred maintenance projects.

“We are concerned that cutting dollars critical to keeping our existing parks open and accessible to those who need them most, while earmarking funding for a new state park, does not reflect this vision,” Norton said.

Wildfires and Utilities
When it comes to protecting the state from wildfires, the proposed budget revision adds $90 million to Cal Fire ahead of the 2020 fire season. The funds are for permanent firefighting positions and for wildfire prediction technology and modeling.

Newsom says because of climate change the state can’t let up on fire preparedness.

“We're doing a historic amount of vegetation management, prescribed burns, we talked about that yesterday with [34 of] 35 high profile projects ... done, the last one will be done in seven days,” Newsom said.

It also includes $1.1 billion in federal funds for “critical infrastructure and disaster relief related to the 2017 and 2018 wildfires.”

Also, the proposal builds on the California Public Utilities Commission aim to hold utilities accountable with 106 new positions and $30 million for the commission to “hold our investor on utilities accountable, PG&E included, to making sure they're keeping you safe, and mitigating the concerns around these power shut offs,” Newsom said.

The budget also calls for consolidating fire camps provided to minimize impacts to communities that rely on the services provided by inmate fire crews. This could save the state $7.4 million this year.

Copyright 2020 CapRadio

Ezra David Romero