Sierra Monies Reduced Until Sierra Conservancy Passes

[Note from The Sierra Fund: This news story appears to have many factual errors] Budget spends $14 million for river parkways, open space DON THOMPSON Associated Press SACRAMENTO – California is set to spend more than $14 million on new river parkways and open land in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountain ranges under the budget signed Saturday by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. But Schwarzenegger sliced the nearly $50 million sought by Senate leader John Burton, D-San Francisco, because the two new programs will start halfway through the budget year. It was unrealistic to expect to spend all the money in just six months, budget officials said. The now-$4.15 million mountain program is contingent on legislative approval of a new Sierra Nevada Conservancy, a sweeping new government body that would coordinate natural resource protection efforts in the mountains along California's eastern flank. The proposal has been opposed by some rural lawmakers, local governments and agriculture organizations that fear the new entity would strip some decision-making from existing governments and take more private land off the property tax rolls. But Schwarzenegger supports the conservancy and expects the Legislature to send him a compromise version in the next few weeks, Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said Saturday. The money would be spent starting in January through a new Sierra Nevada Cascade Program within the boundaries of the conservancy to promote tourism and recreation; protect water quality; cut the risk of natural disasters; enhance the use of public land; preserve the environment; and support local government efforts to increase open space and habitat protection lands. Conservancies already cover portions of the Lake Tahoe Basin, San Francisco Bay shoreline, Santa Monica Mountains, Coachella Valley, San Gabriel Mountains, Baldwin Hills, along the San Joaquin, San Gabriel, San Diego and lower Los Angeles rivers. The budget also allocates $10 million in voter-approved bond money for a new River Parkways Program. It requires the state's Resources secretary to give the money to public agencies and nonprofit organizations that meet at least two of five criteria, said Resources Agency spokesman Mike Wintemute. Projects must be compatible with recreation; restore habitat or water quality; maintain or restore open space to help with periodic flooding; convert developed areas to open space; or support river restoration or conservation. Cities including Sacramento and Redding already have extensive river parkway programs, with bike trails, wildlife areas and parks strung for miles through Sacramento and American river floodways.