Will $4 Billion Prop 68 Really Fund LA’s Parks?

LA WATCHDOG--On June 5, 57% of the California’s voters approved Proposition 68, a measure that authorized the issuance of $4.1 billion of bonds to fund “parks, natural resources protection, climate adaptation, water quality and supply, and flood protection.” 

Many Angelenos who supported this proposition are expecting that these bonds will pay for new parks and the acquisition of open spaces that are coveted by density loving real estate developers. 

But this “something for everybody” bond measure will do very little for Angelenos and their dreams of new parks and open space.  

Of the $4.1 billion in bonds, less than one third will be devoted to parks and recreation.  The other $2.8 billion will be allocated to Natural Resource Conservation ($1.5 billion) and Water and Water Quality ($1.3 billion).  

Of the $1.3 billion allocated for parks, recreation, and open space, almost $300 million will be spent on state parks and rural recreation.  This leaves $1 billion for local and regional parks. 

Of this amount, about 10% will be allocated to the City of Los Angeles based on its share of the State’s population.  This $100 million will be divided among the fifteen Council Districts and the Mayor.  This leaves about $5 million for each Councilmember to direct towards his or her pet project.   Assuming that the bond proceeds are parceled out over a five-year period, that leaves only $1 million a year for each Council District. 

Of course, this assumes that the bond proceeds will flow directly to the City.  This is unlikely as the Wall Street lawyers and investment bankers will get their pound of flesh for their efforts in issuing and underwriting the bonds.  There are also the bureaucracies of the State and other levels of government who will want to get their beaks wet.  And many nonprofit environmental organizations will expect to have their pet projects funded in return their help in passing Prop 68, including campaign contributions of more than $6 million. 

The City will also skim money off the top to pay for the Bureau of Engineering and the Department of Recreation and Parks as well as the Chief Legislative Analyst, the City Administrative Officer, and the Mayor’s office. 

Even if we are lucky to get new parks and preserve open space, there is not any extra money for the maintenance of the new parks as bond proceeds cannot legally be used to pay for operating expenses.  Unfortunately, the Department of Recreation and Parks does not have extra resources because it is still recovering from the recession and full cost accounting maneuver that decimated its budget.  As it is, Rec & Parks cannot properly maintain LA’s existing parks, facilities, programs, and, as Controller Ron Galperin pointed out, its bathrooms.  

Unfortunately, we have been sold a bill of goods by Sacramento, our local politicians who endorsed this proposition, and the environmental community, all of whom led us to believe that substantial resources would be devoted to new local parks and open space.  But this is standard operating procedure where what they say is not what you get.   

In November, we will be asked to approve an $8 billion water bond, a $4 billion housing bond, the County’s Rain Tax, and, more than likely, other taxes and bonds.  But before voting, ask yourself, do you trust the politicians who occupy the Capitol and City Hall?

(Jack Humphreville writes LA Watchdog for CityWatch. He is the President of the DWP Advocacy Committee and is the Budget and DWP representative for the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council.  He is a Neighborhood Council Budget Advocate.  He can be reached at:  lajack@gmail.com.)

-cw