Article on CA Green Sticker Audit

Discussion in 'Pacific Region' started by ntsqd, Aug 17, 2004.

  1. ntsqd

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    Nov 28, 2002
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    So. CA
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    By Michael Gardner
    August 17, 2004
    SACRAMENTO - Calling a state parks program a potential "slush fund for environmental causes," Sen. Bill Morrow has persuaded a committee to order a review of how the department spends fees collected from off-road vehicle enthusiasts.
    The state audit will explore whether the Department of Parks and Recreation has allocated too much money to environmental restoration and land acquisition at the expense of adding sites and maintaining existing facilities.
    As an example of a questionable expenditure, Morrow, an Oceanside Republican and off-road buff, cited the state's $1.9 million contribution to buy land ostensibly for a buffer zone although the site is five miles from a Sacramento-area off-road park.
    Morrow also complained that the state plans to buy a closed Lockheed Martin test site in Riverside County that is so toxic "you can actually light the land on fire with a lighter."
    There are six state-funded, off-highway parks in California, drawing more than 3 million visitors annually, according to the parks department.
    As off-road use continues to boom, competition for limited funds has grown more fierce. The state uses licensing fees and taxes on off-road vehicles to acquire more parks. The funds also are tapped to mitigate environmental damage by restoring land and buying buffer zones.
    The state will run the program on $52.5 million this fiscal year, but it may dip into reserves for an additional $18 million to buy land to offset damage caused by off-road use.
    Morrow says the department has diverted too much money from the account for environmental programs while existing facilities become overcrowded and fall into disrepair.
    "My concern is perhaps we have created a legislative slush fund for environmental causes," Morrow said. A joint Assembly-Senate committee approved the $139,000 audit Thursday. Assemblywoman Christine Kehoe, D-San Diego, agreed to the review although she said she is not convinced the department is doing anything wrong.
    Opening the books is important, Kehoe said, to "put the burden on the bureaucracy to explain themselves."
    Assemblywoman Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, said the issue is more about ideology than where the money is going. "Clearly the off-road people want it all to be spent to expand their parks," she said. "Off-road people feel they should be able to ride wherever they want."
    Joshua Mackeroof, a San Diego attorney and off-road enthusiast, said the public resources code requires that most of the fees be spent on maintenance and new facilities.
    The parks department has been spending so much on environmental mitigation that it could drain all of its reserves for the program by the end of this fiscal year, he said.
    "The community has stood by and watched (off-road) areas literally starving to death financially," Mackeroof said.
    Off-road enthusiasts are particularly incensed over the state's interest in spending $30 million to buy more than 7,200 acres of Lockheed Martin property in Riverside County. Of that, 6,000 acres would be a buffer for 1,200 acres of off-road trails.
    The land is so toxic, Mackeroof said, "we don't know if off-road vehicles will ever be allowed to ride in that park." Daphne Green, a deputy parks director who oversees the off-road account, said the state will not act until a broad pollution study is finished next year. "No purchase will take place until we have an idea of what is available and safe," she said. The department did not take a position on the audit request.
    Morrow has been critical of state park policies in the past. In 1996 he was cited by a park ranger for doing "doughnuts" - driving in tight circles at high speed - in a four-wheel-drive vehicle that sported special Assembly license plates. Morrow said the run-in did not play a role in his request for an audit. "It has nothing to do with that," he said.

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