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Legislature Approves ‘Park Barrel’ Funding

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Even during these times of budget austerity, when Californians are being told to dig deep and sacrifice, the Legislature has found a way to deliver political pork to the folks back home, the stuff that helps grease the way to reelection.

In the wee hours of Saturday morning, nearing the end of this year’s lawmaking agenda, bleary-eyed legislators sent to Gov. Pete Wilson their latest “park barrel” program--a single bill to spend $38.5 million on local and state parks and recreation facilities in the home districts of dozens of lawmakers.

For example, $90,000 is proposed for a bird-watching area at Sunset Beach in San Diego; $30,000 to replace a basketball court in Brawley; $30,000 for sand “nourishment” (replacement) at Moonlight Beach at Encinitas, and $730,000 for new building construction at Candlestick Point recreation area in San Francisco. In all, the bill encompasses scores of projects, spread from one end of the state to the other.

Wilson has not taken a public position on the proposal. But as press secretary Bill Livingstone put it, the governor has “indicated that if the Legislature wanted to go ahead and pass it, he would consider it when it landed on his desk.”

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Politically popular, legislators delight in citing parks projects as evidence that they can deliver effectively for their constituents.

Sen. Ralph Dills (D-Gardena), who first was elected to the Legislature in 1938 and probably has seen more pork stews than any other current member, noted that for a politician to vote for parks is an “irresistible urge. Parks is good politics. It is good government. It is what people want.”

Dills was among the bill’s supporters and noted that two of the projects were in Compton, outside his current district but within the boundaries of a new district from which he intends to run. But Dills said he would have voted for the bill in any event because “we need all the parks and playgrounds we can get.”

Money for parks is usually included in the state budget. But many parks projects were dropped from California’s austere spending program in July on grounds that they were too costly at a time when taxpayers were being told to ante up more, and when health, welfare, education and other services were being cut back.

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For two months, the “parks are good politics” instinct was anesthetized by fiscal restraints. But the anesthesia began wearing off and reelection-conscious lawmakers started thinking about delivering park pork in their existing or newly proposed reapportioned districts.

The freshly drafted bill, by Sen. Dan McCorquodale (D-San Jose), first cleared the Assembly on Friday night, but arrived in the Senate to opposition from budget-conscious Republicans and Sen. Quentin Kopp, an independent from San Francisco.

On an initial roll call, Republicans and Kopp either sat on their hands or voted no. Democrats and a few GOP members voted for it.

Suddenly, Kopp stood up and voted “aye.”

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“He found the Candlestick project,” muttered the presiding officer, Sen. Daniel Boatwright (D-Concord).

McCorquodale strolled up and down the aisles as he sought GOP votes, pointing out to members a park here, a fishing pier there. As senators examined the bill, line by line, many discovered an irresistible morsel of pork. Then, they stampeded to pass the bill, 30 to 4, at 1:40 a.m.


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