Sep 12, 8:00 PM EDT

Promised parks still unbuilt as lawmakers seek to build more


AP Photo
AP Photo/Nick Ut

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- Lawmakers are poised to vote this week on $725 million in bond funding to build new parks in underserved neighborhoods around California, even though a third of similar projects promised under the last parks bond in 2006 are incomplete.

The money would come as part of a $4 billion bond for parks and water infrastructure. It needs approval from the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to go before voters on the 2018 ballot.

Voters last approved $400 million in bond funding to build and expand parks in poor neighborhoods through Proposition 84 in 2006. Steady progress has been made since an Associated Press review last year found fewer than half of the approved 126 parks had been built. But roughly a third of those parks still aren't finished.

Forty-two projects remain in progress, two of which are still in the planning phase, according to updated data from the California Natural Resources Agency provided to AP.

This year's proposal, SB5, would dole out $725 million through a competitive grant process. Supporters of the parks bond say parks provide important recreation and exercise opportunities for residents in low-income communities in particular. The $4 billion bond proposal also includes maintenance for flood and dam infrastructure, clean drinking water projects, coastal environmental protection and other outdoor projects.

Lawmakers backing the bill say it includes provisions to encourage the money is spent in a timely manner. The 2006 ballot measure didn't impose strict timelines for when the parks should be built, and critics say the new bill likewise doesn't have enough safeguards to ensure the parks will be built quickly.

"I don't have any confidence that the problems that happened in Proposition 84 won't happen again with this," said David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

The process of building parks includes finalizing grant agreements, selecting contractors and gathering community input, all things that take considerable time, representatives from the park-building Trust for Public Land told AP last year.

Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, who authored an earlier version of the parks bond, said there were valid reasons many parks from the previous bond were delayed, pointing in particular to fiscal challenges communities faced during the Great Recession.

He noted this year's bill would reallocate any bond money that isn't spent on time, which he believes will help ensure parks are built quickly. The park money will be doled out under a program that will rescind grant money if it's not spent within eight years.

Garcia supports the proposal's commitment to building parks and other infrastructure.

"I think it's a good balanced package," he said.

If approved, the $4 billion in bond funding would need to be paid back with interest over a period of years.

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This story has been corrected to reflect the number of parks that have not been completed. It is 42, not 43.

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