A key issue in California recently got national attention via a Resources Publishing Co. article California budget is in balance; its parks survive.
The California OHMVR program was created in 1971 as a self-funded program. The primary funding is derived from registration of off-road vehicles, entry fees to State Vehicle Recreation Areas (SVRA), and revenue derived from a calculation of the motor vehicle fuel tax paid for fuel used in off-highway recreation. In 2007, SB-742 was approved by a near unanimous vote and changed the motor vehicle fuel tax revenue to be derived from a calculation based on the actual number of OHV recreation-related public land visitor-use-days.
Over the life of the program, the OHV program has been subject to manipulation, with funds diverted from providing for OHV recreation opportunity to other non-OHV uses. Numerous state program audits are critical of OHV Program management within the California Department of Parks and Recreation (State Parks).
The mismanagement of the OHV program began to change with the appointment of Daphne Greene as Deputy Director. Originally appointed by Governor Davis in 1999 to the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Commission, Ms. Greene was then appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to be Deputy Director of the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Division of State Parks in 2004.
Deputy Director Greene was appointed, in part, to implement specific repairs to the Division outlined by an extensive audit performed in 2005 by the Bureau of State Audits (BSA).
Prior to Ms. Greene's tenure as Deputy Director, the annual Local Assistance Grants component of the OHV Program showed significant fluctuation from year-to-year. The local assistance grants program was revamped in 2005 to be a true competitive process. That was followed by the passage of SB-742. Together, those actions helped put the OHV Program on a solid footing, with sound management guidelines, to where the state OHV Program is now a model being looked at by other states around the nation.
The visionary leaders that created the OHV Program wanted a strong, organized program that included law enforcement, the remediation of land and education, with an understanding of where you can recreate legally as a self-funded program. The program, as now structured, is that program. It is self-funded and receives no funding from the General Fund. In fact, over $188 million has been diverted from the program to other non-OHV efforts.
Due to administrative encumbrances, the OHV Program has maintained a healthy reserve. Administrative hurdles encumber the program from carrying out its legislative mission to increase OHV opportunity.
The funding reductions of the last few years (four successive years of budget diversions) means that the program has already had demonstrable reductions that are becoming visible; such as a 10% cut to district staffing; an 18% cut in headquarters staffing. Contracts are being cut, which means fewer hours at the SVRA. There will be closures in the middle of the week and, clearly, there has been loss of opportunity in the maintenance of the trails and the riding in the areas supported by local assistance grants.
The discovery of "hidden" funds within the Department of Parks and Recreation raised the ire of many. After months of investigation, the governor has proclaimed that State Parks is solvent and open for business. While the "audit" indicates no laws were broken and no criminal charges will be filed, it does beg the question: "Really???"