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Let's Not Be Stingy With Nature

[Reproduced from a Los Angeles Times editorial 6-7-1999]

California's natural resources have suffered for the past 16 years under prior governors. Now, under Gov. Gray Davis, who promised to be a friend of the environment, the state's natural resources face yet an other stingy budget.

Even with a $4.3-billion surplus to draw on, Davis added relatively little to the resources budget, leaving it even smaller than the final outlay of Gov. Pete Wilson. Davis did allocate $157 million in one-time surplus money for deferred maintenance in the deteriorating state parks system. But that still leaves the parks hundreds of millions short for maintenance and construction.

The Legislature took some vigorous and worthy steps this past week to make up for the anemic resource budgets of past years. The Senate-Assembly budget conference committee added roughly $130 million for land acquisition and a welcome $20 million for badly needed enforcement of state environmental laws.

We have applauded Davis for his caution in allocating the budget surplus. But this is one well-defined place where he should loosen the purse strings. Some will argue that land acquisition could be financed through a sorely needed bond issue on the 2000 ballot. But bond money would not be available for as long as two years. In the meantime, significant habitat assets and open space might be sold for development. Two examples lie along the Gaviota Coast in Santa Barbara County, the 2,858-acre El Capitan Ranch and the 130-acre Monarch Point property on the north side of Goleta, now proposed for a housing development. Such opportunities to purchase open space for all Californians usually come only once and should not be missed.

Legislators also added a small but critical item, $2 million to the state secretary of re sources to establish a "statewide conservation blueprint." The idea, from Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin (D-Duncans Mills), seeks to inventory threatened natural areas and to develop a strategy for more effective conservation.

New Jersey has a program to save 1 million acres of open space. Florida is spending $300 million a year for land acquisition. The fact that California does not even have a coherent strategy for preserving its resources is a lamentable sign of how far the state has fallen behind and how much there is to do.


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