$2.6 Billion Bond Measure for Parks Has Familiar Look

Staff Reporter

Two years after California voters approved a $2 billion bond measure for parks and open space acquisition, voters are being asked to approve another $2.6 billion bond measure on the March 5 ballot Proposition 40 for much the same thing.

A broad coalition of business groups, environmental organizations, local governments and labor unions has raised over $3 million in support of Proposition 40. They cite the huge backlog of park improvement projects and open space at risk for development and say that record low interest rates make the time ripe for another bond measure.

But anti-tax groups opposing Proposition 40 say that with the state budget facing a $14 billion-plus deficit and residents' pocketbooks being pinched by the recession, now is not the right time to pass any bond measure, let alone one as massive as $2.6 billion.

Proposition 40 would raise $1.3 billion for state and local parks and historical/cultural resources, including $70 million to the City of Los Angeles. Of that $70 million, $5 million each would go to the Hansen Dam and Sepulveda Basin recreation areas in the San Fernando Valley, while the rest would be distributed to parks throughout the city on a per-capita basis.

The remaining $1.3 billion would go to land conservancies that buy up land threatened by development. In Los Angeles, $40 million each would go to the Baldwin Hills, Santa Monica Mountains and San Gabriel/Los Angeles River conservancies.

Polling questioned

While Proposition 12 won handily at the polls two years ago, 63 percent to 37 percent, Proposition 40's success is by no means assured.

The only publicly released poll on Proposition 40, conducted by the Los Angeles Times about a month ago, showed 62 percent support it, consistent with the 2000 vote. However, even Prop. 40 supporters are wary of this figure, since the Times pollsters did not read the measure's fiscal impact statement to survey participants. Internal tracking polls have the measure much closer to the 50 percent majority threshold.

And the dynamics of this election are quite a bit different from 2000. For starters, the turnout in this non-presidential year is expected to be lower than the 37 percent of eligible voters and 54 percent of registered voters that cast votes on March 7, 2000. And, with a Republican gubernatorial primary serving as the top draw for voters, the electorate is expected to be more conservative this time around.

That's generally regarded as bad news for Prop. 40 supporters, since conservative voters tend not to vote for massive bond measures.

"With so many safe Democratic seats thanks to redistricting, there's little incentive for Democrats to get out to the polls," said local political consultant Allan Hoffenblum. "It's my understanding that the people on the Yes on 40 campaign are concerned about the conservative turnout."

On top of all this is the softer economy, which naturally causes people to be more cautious about multibillion dollar bond measures.

Proposition 40 proponents dismiss these factors, citing other polling results that show continued strong support for environmental protection among California voters that crosses party lines.

"Look, we have former Gov. (George) Deukmejian supporting Prop. 40, and he's out there communicating with Republican voters on the need for this measure," said Rex Hime, president and chief executive of the California Business Properties Association, one of the trade groups backing the measure. "This is also a measure with fiscal safeguards built in, which should appeal to the more fiscally conservative voters."

Hime said business groups support Prop. 40 because it would enhance the quality of life for employers and employees.

Source of funds debated

Opponents say these are laudable goals, but that they should be paid for out of the state's general fund, not through bond sales that require the payback of $1.7 billion in interest over the next 25 years.

"We just invested $4 billion in parks and water projects two years ago with Propositions 12 and 13," said Daryl Thomas, legislative assistant to state Sen. Ray Haynes, who is spearheading opposition to the measure.

Thomas added that some of the Proposition 12 funds were spent on non-environmental facilities like libraries and museums, while other bond money went to fund the operating budgets of environmental organizations.

Proponents say that each project is listed in the bond measure and that voters can easily access that list so they know exactly where the money is going. Also, they say that there is insufficient money in the state's general fund to make the emergency land purchases that are needed to stave off development.

Proposition 40

Measure would fund park, water quality and open-space acquisition projects. -Authorizes state to sell $2.6 billion in bonds, repayable over 25 years at average cost of $172 million a year.

-$1.3 billion would go toward land, air and water conservation, $1.05 billion for upkeep of parks and recreational facilities, and $267 million for acquisition, development and preservation of cultural and historical facilities.

-Recipients in Los Angeles County: $40 million each to the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, the Baldwin Hills Conservancy and the San Gabriel and Lower Los Angeles Rivers and Mountains Conservancy; $70 million for the upkeep of parks and recreation areas in the City of Los Angeles.

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