State lawmakers request millions in funding for district projects

State lawmakers request millions in funding for district projects
One of the biggest earmarks in the budget is $15 million for repairs to Sacramento's Tower Bridge. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The proposed budget to be voted on by the Legislature on Monday contains millions of dollars in earmarks by lawmakers seeking state favor for their districts.

The expenditures include money to renovate bridges, restore creeks, expand parks, erect sound walls and study the feasibility of opening a new university in Stockton.


Republican leaders, calling the spending "pork," say that the items typically do not receive the legislative debate that regular bills get and siphon away money that should go to the state's rainy-day fund or pay down debt.

"California still has over $200 billion of outstanding debts and liabilities," said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff of San Dimas. "This is no time to be porking out the budget. It is simply irresponsible."

Lawmakers said the allotments were not rewards for budget votes, as was common before state voters lowered the threshold for passage of spending plans from a two-thirds majority to a simple majority.

An earmark won by Assemblywoman Jacqui Irwin (D-Thousand Oaks) would provide $500,000 for lab equipment and to set up an engineering degree program at California State University Channel Islands in Camarillo.

Irwin asked the Assembly Budget Committee to include the funding in March, after receiving the request from University President Richard Rush.

"Supporting an engineering program at CSU Channel Islands is good not only for Ventura County, where studies show a need for more engineers, it's also good for California," Irwin said in a statement.

Assemblywoman Susan Talamantes Eggman (D-Stockton) won a provision to have the state absorb the cost of studying the establishment of a new Cal State campus in the city of Stockton.

Her proposal was broadened to say the study would look overall at where campuses may be needed, but Eggman said Stockton is the only California city with more than 300,000 people that has no public university campus in proximity.

"We know that Stockton is a strong, vibrant city where a public university will thrive," Eggman said earlier this year. "We need to make the case to the rest of the state."

One of the biggest earmarks is $15 million won by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento). It would bring his city's Tower Bridge into a "state of good repair" so that Caltrans could relinquish control of the structure to the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento.

The cities want the bridge, in part, so they can someday install rails across it for a new streetcar system, even though voters in Sacramento recently rejected such a project.

Another factor: Sacramento has sponsored an annual "Farm to Fork" fundraising dinner on the bridge, and it has been cumbersome for the city to obtain permits from Caltrans to close the structure for the event, officials said.

The budget also includes $1 million for the Wildlife Health Center at UC Davis, which was added by a budget subcommittee on resources and transportation chaired by Assemblyman Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica).

Bloom's chief of staff, Sean MacNeil, said the funding request came from nonprofit marine animal rescue groups that have been inundated by thousands of sea lion pups stranded on California beaches this year.


Researchers say warm ocean temperatures have reduced the fish supply available to the pups' mothers, forcing them farther out to sea and away from their pups.

"It's been a record year in the number of baby sea lions washing ashore," MacNeil said.

MacNeil said the UC Davis center would administer the funds, issuing grants to animal rescue groups caring for the sea lions.

The Legislature also is setting aside $2 million to help expand hours of operation at the nonprofit LifeLong Clinic, an urgent care facility, in Contra Costa County.

The clinic opened after the closure of Doctors Medical Center, the only community hospital in a five-city area. It primarily served Medi-Cal patients and residents without health insurance. The money was sought by Assemblyman Tony Thurmond (D-Richmond), who represents the region.

"This urgent care center fills a void," Thurmond said Friday.

Other earmarks include:

  • $6 million for restoration of Chollas Creek in San Diego's inner city, in a district represented by Assemblywoman Shirley Weber (D-San Diego), who chairs the Assembly Budget Committee.
  • $1 million for water quality improvements, wetland restoration and protection against invasive species in Clear Lake, north of Santa Rosa. The appropriation was requested by Assemblyman Bill Dodd (D-Napa).
  • $700,000 for construction of a sound wall to reduce traffic noise at Walerga Park in Sacramento, at the behest of Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova).
  • $250,000 sought by the California Legislative Black Caucus for the Mervyn M. Dymally African American Political and Economic Institute at Cal State Dominguez Hills. The institute is named after a former state legislator.