Voters to decide on $4 billion bond to fund clean parks and water conservation | SierraSun.com

Voters to decide on $4 billion bond to fund clean parks and water conservation

Hannah Jones
hjones@sierrasun.com

If approved, Proposition 68 funding would be provided in three main categories, with about two-thirds going to state parks, such as Donner Memorial State Park, and wildlife, and one-third going towards water conservation and flood protection.

On June 5 voters have a chance to secure $4 billion in general obligation bonds, to go towards park maintenance, environmental protection projects and clean water conservation.

If passed, Proposition 68 will be the largest statewide investment into outdoor conservation and restoration projects since 2006. Since that time California's population has grown from 36 million to 39.5 million, leading environmental groups to fight for the protection of natural resources.

"The reason why these bonds are so necessary is because we can see that our region is changing," said Chris Mertens, Sierra Business Council government affairs director.

"There's dying trees, there's more forest fires, extreme weather events. This bond will help give our region the tools we need to build a more resilient community. It provides and unprecedented amount of funding to protecting our community."

SUPPORT IN THE SIERRA

Several environmental groups in the Tahoe region have endorsed the measure including the Sierra Business Council, Keep Tahoe Blue and the Truckee Donner Land Trust, voicing concerns about the future of Lake Tahoe and the natural resources it provides.

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More than 60 percent of California's water supply comes from the Sierra Nevada. Under Proposition 68, the California Tahoe Conservancy would receive $27 million. In addition to these funds, the Water Supply and Quality Act, scheduled for the Nov. 6 election would supply $100 million to the region.

"Our parks continues to get more and more visitors and the population is growing, so having money dedicated to protecting those resources in vital to this area," said Darcie Goodman Collins, executive director of Keep Tahoe Blue. Collins said that because most state funding for such projects is competitive among other regions, the $27 million secured through Proposition 68 will "allow that certainty that we can start projects we know we can finish them," she said.

'WRONG WAY,' opponents say

Opposition to the measure comes mainly from taxpayers who believe the measure will only plunge the state further into debt.

"We need to protect and improve our state parks, but Proposition 68 is the wrong way to do that," Andrea Seastrand, President of the Central Coast Taxpayers Association, said in a California official voter information guide. She argued that only $1.3 million will actually go towards parks and that the money will not be distributed equally throughout the state.

State Sen. John Moorlach, who represents most of Orange County, opposed the measure arguing against even higher taxes. In an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee, he cited data from the California Legislative Analyst's Office reporting that taxpayers would owe $200 million a year for 40 years from the state's general fund if the measure were to pass.

"That means not just our children, but our grandchildren will be paying it off," he said.

IF APPROVED

Prop. 68 funding would be provided in three main categories, with about two- thirds going to parks and wildlife, and one-third going towards water conservation and flood protection. According to the Proposition 68 website, the money will be allocated as follows.

Water conservation

$540 million to ensure clean drinking water

$180 million to groundwater cleanup and water recycling

$550 million to flood protection

$367 million to rivers, lakes, and streams protection and restoration

Parks and recreation

$725 million to neighborhood parks in greatest need of restoration

$285 million to safer and cleaner park facilities in cities, counties, and local park districts

$218 million to repair and improve state parks

$95 million to promote recreation and tourism

Natural Resources

$765 million for conserving and protecting natural areas

$235 million to protect beaches, oceans and the coast

$140 million for climate change resiliency

Statewide, there are 280 state parks which all have a maintenance backlog estimate at $1.2 billion. In the 1980s, California State Parks began to put off maintenance on basic repair projects such as bathrooms, rooftops, fences and trails due to underfunding of the state park's budget. With deferred maintenance from the past three decades, some of the measure's money will go towards reducing that backlog.

The last parks bond that was passed was Proposition 84, which gave $5.4 billion in funding to water and flood control projects and park restoration.

Hannah Jones is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. She can be reached at hjones@truckeesun.com or 503-550-2652.