California's state parks were once a national model. But over the years, as Californians increasingly turned to the parks for inexpensive getaways, the state's 200-plus parks fell into disrepair because of repeated budget cuts. And now, as demand for parks has reached new heights during the economic crisis, the system is in serious peril. State officials are talking about closing up to a hundred parks for one to two years.
In fact, things have gotten so bad that parks officials and nonprofit groups are considering corporate sponsorships in the wake of the governor's decision to slash another $6.2 million from the parks' budget, according to the Los Angeles Times. The governor's eleventh-hour cuts last week could force the mass closure of parks beginning this fall — unless officials can entice businesses to pony up large amounts of cash for the right to attach their names to some of California's environmental jewels. "For example, if Budweiser came forward with money for Malibu Beach State Park, we wouldn't change the name to Budweiser Beach," state parks spokesman Roy Stearns told the Times. "But why not put up a banner saying, 'This park is kept open by Budweiser' for as long as they continue helping us?" In the Bay Area, officials may look for sponsors for Benicia Capitol State Historic Park, Mount Diablo, Fremont Peak State Historic Park, Tomales Bay State Park, and Portola Redwoods State Park — all of which are expected to be on the state's closure list.
However, the controversy may end up in court before any company has a chance to erect billboards in the wilderness. Several Democratic leaders contend that Schwarzenegger's last-minute cuts, which he accomplished through line-item vetoes, were illegal, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In addition to state parks, the governor slashed a total of $489 million from the budget, including funds for social programs for the poor. The issue is whether the governor has the power to cut budget items that the Legislature had already trimmed, or whether he can only cut new appropriations. If it's the latter, then Schwarzenegger may have violated state law. Assembly Speaker Karen Bass said she was seeking legal advice on the governor's actions.
Oakland Cops Union Agree to Cuts
Locally, Oakland's most powerful employee union, the Oakland Police Officers Association, agreed to $8.5 million in compensation cuts in an effort to help solve the city's budget problems. The OPOA was the lone holdout among the city's unions, which had all previously agreed to take 10 percent cuts. But even with the $8.5 million reduction, the police department must still slash another $4.3 million from its budget, according to the Oakland Tribune. Earlier budget discussions focused on forcing police officers to take unpaid furlough days.
The news followed an announcement that Oakland had received the largest single federal grant in the nation for policing under the president's stimulus package. The city will receive $19.7 million over three years. Although the federal grant was significantly smaller than the $67 million the city originally requested, Mayor Ron Dellums used his connections in Washington, DC to obtain the maximum amount allowed under the program. The grant will fund the salaries of 41 police officers and, coupled with another $8 million in cuts made last week by the city council, should help Oakland avoid laying off any cops.
New Details in Bailey Murder
Speaking of Oakland police, new details emerged in the two-year investigation into the slaying of local journalist Chauncey Bailey. Late last week, a judge ordered the release of transcripts from grand jury proceedings that led to the murder indictment earlier this year of Yusuf Bey IV, CEO of the now-defunct Your Black Muslim Bakery. According to an account by shooter Devaughndre Broussard quoted in the Chronicle, Bey IV hugged the men he had ordered to kill Bailey after they had assassinated the Oakland Post editor, telling them "I love y'all." Bey IV then took Broussard and getaway driver Antoine Mackey out to IHOP to celebrate.
In addition, the Chauncey Bailey Project, also citing Broussard's grand jury testimony, reported that Bey IV had wanted his brother-in-law, Saleem Bey, killed because Saleem Bey was feeding information to Bailey for a story Bailey was working on about the bakery's finances. However, Bey IV ultimately decided not to order a hit on his sister's husband because he didn't want to anger her. Broussard reached a plea deal with prosecutors earlier this year in exchange for his assistance in convicting Bey IV and Mackey.
UC Berkeley has quietly decided to build its controversial biofuels lab in downtown Berkeley rather than in Strawberry Canyon, according to The Berkeley Daily Planet. ... BART avoided a major work stoppage when it reached tentative agreements late last week with its three largest employee unions. BART officials refused to divulge the details of the pacts, but they are believed to save the agency about $100 million, according to the Chron. ... The Port of Oakland, along with several other state and federal agencies, announced a $22 million program to clean up some of the diesel-spewing trucks in West Oakland. ... The Oakland City Council voted to make local businessman Phil Tagami the master developer of the city's half of the former Army Base, following the port commission's decision to award the port's half to Tagami as well. ... And the Chron reported that state Attorney General Jerry Brown has solicited nearly $10 million since 2006 from big donors for his two-pet charter schools in Oakland. But Brown denied that he was providing access to the donors in exchange for their contributions.
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