Analysis of the 2007-08 Budget Bill: Resources

Sierra Nevada Conservancy (3855)

The Sierra Nevada Conservancy was established by statute in 2004. The purpose of the conservancy is to undertake projects and make grants and loans for various public purposes in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, including increasing tourism and recreation; protecting cultural, archaeological, and historical resources; reducing the risk of natural disasters; and protecting and improving water and air quality.

The budget proposes for 2007-08 total expenditures for the conservancy of $21.6 million from three sources—Proposition 84 bond funds ($17.5 million), the Environmental License Plate Fund ($3.9 million), and reimbursements ($200,000). This is an increase of $17.6 million, or 440 percent, above estimated expenditures in the current year. This increase reflects the infusion of bond funds allocated to the conservancy in a recently passed bond measure (Proposition 84). Staffing for the conservancy is proposed at 25.5 positions for 2007-08.

Conservancy Has Yet to Develop Guidelines for New Grant Program

The budget proposes $17.5 million from Proposition 84 bond funds for a new grant program—$17 million for local assistance grants and $500,000 for five support staff to administer the grants. We recommend the Legislature withhold action on the budget request, pending submittal by the conservancy at budget hearings of details on the guidelines and criteria by which the conservancy will award the grants.

Background. Chapter 726, Statutes of 2004 (AB 2600, Leslie), established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy. The mission of the conservancy is to preserve and restore significant natural, cultural, archaeological, recreational, and working landscape resources (farms, ranches, and forests) in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The conservancy’s jurisdiction covers 25 million acres and is divided into six subregions. In 2005, the conservancy began its start-up activities which, in 2006, resulted in it selecting an executive director, moving into its headquarters, and hiring staff.

The conservancy’s initial focus in its first two years was undertaking and facilitating a strategic program planning process involving meetings and workshops within each of the subregions, with the purpose of formulating strategic program objectives and priorities within that subregion. Chapter 726 requires these activities in order to encourage local involvement and participation in the conservancy’s activities.

Budget Proposes Proposition 84 Bond Funds for Local Assistance Grants. Proposition 84 provides $54 million to the conservancy, broadly for the protection and restoration of rivers, lakes, and streams, their watersheds, and associated land, water, and other natural resources within the geographic jurisdiction of the conservancy. The budget for 2007-08 proposes $17 million in Proposition 84 bond monies to fund local assistance grants, as well as $500,000 to fund staff to support the grant program. The conservancy anticipates awarding the grants over a three-year period that will begin in 2007-08. Administration of the grant program, including oversight of grant recipient projects, will continue through 2014-15.

Conservancy Has Yet to Adopt Specific Criteria by Which to Award Local Assistance Grants. At the time this analysis was prepared, the conservancy had not yet adopted guidelines that set program objectives and priorities and criteria for awarding grants under the new grant program. According to conservancy staff, such guidelines are in draft form and will be considered by the conservancy’s board at its upcoming meeting in February.

Recommend Legislature Withhold Action on Budget Request. Absent the guidelines for the new grant program, the Legislature is unable to assess the extent to which the conservancy’s local assistance program is in keeping with statutory objectives for the conservancy and consistent with legislative priorities for resource activities in the Sierra-Nevada region. For this reason, we recommend that the Legislature withhold action on this budget item pending submittal by the conservancy at budget hearings of details on the guidelines, as adopted by the board, that set program priorities and criteria for awarding grants under the new grant program. This will provide the Legislature with information that it needs to evaluate this budget request.

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