In what some observers see as a shrewd political move, the San Diego County Board of Supervisors is reviewing its entire discretionary spending program--including closing most county parks--with an eye to raising millions of dollars needed to build jail cells.
The 4-H program, which has about 4,000 members and 1,800 volunteer leaders countywide, is the first of dozens of county programs on today's public hearing agenda to defend itself against the budgetary ax. Others on the list for possible reduction or extinction include most of the county's parks, flood control and weed abatement programs, many Planning Department and Public Works Department programs, including county transit, airport maintenance, sewage and trash-operating funds.
The public hearings were called by the supervisors to allow those involved in the threatened programs to voice their opinions and to learn that the alternative to cutting county programs may be voter approval next year of a half-cent increase in the sales tax countywide to pay for jail cells and courtrooms.
At this afternoon's budget session, dozens of the county's 4-H members and leaders will try to persuade the county board that a $235,000 county grant for the Farm and Home Advisor Cooperative must remain or the 4-H program will perish.
Supervisors are also expected to hear from fishermen and campers, aircraft owners and developers who want to be sure that their county-supported program is not a victim of the budget cuts.
Supervisor John MacDonald said Monday that today's hearings are not the final decision on whether to make extreme reductions in county spending during the next fiscal year, but only "an opportunity for the people affected to have their say."
"We don't play the game of telling them to support the tax or we'll cut their budget. We haven't even decided on an election yet and cuts, if there are any, won't be made until next January," MacDonald said.
"All we could do, if we decide to put the (jail funding) measure on the ballot is to tell people that the pressure will be somewhat off us to cut the budget if a sales tax for jails is successful," he said.
Linda Harkleroad, a Poway 4-H leader, already has lobbied the Poway City Council to send a letter in support of retaining the county funding of 4-H, explaining to the council members that "certainly youth groups come ahead of criminals."
Also expected to spark heated public commentary at today's hearing are proposals to close most of the county's parks and selling the land for development if neighboring cities or other governmental agencies will not assume the maintenance costs. Among the parks proposed for closure and plans for future use are:
Agua Caliente Springs, 802 acres: turned over to the federal Bureau of Land Management and the state.
Dos Picos, 78 acres: retain county ownership.
El Monte, 90 acres: remove recreational and picnic equipment, rent houses.
Felicita, 53 acres: remove recreational equipment, rent houses.
Flinn Springs, 42 acres: remove equipment, retain property as open space, rent houses.
Guajome, 569 acres: retain western parcel for agricultural leasing, sell central parcel containing lakes, give eastern portion to Vista for use as park.
Heritage Historical Park, Old Town: cut park staffing to level supported by lessees' maintenance fees.
Lake Jennings, 100 acres: land will revert to Helix Irrigation District.
Lake Morena, 3,250 acres: removal of campsites, boat dock and launching facilities, picnic facilities and restrooms. Land would be returned to city of San Diego.
Lindo Lake, 55 acres: remove basketball and tennis courts, baseball and softball fields, sell property.
Live Oak Park, 25 acres: remove equipment and restrooms, give land to Fallbrook for park if that community incorporates.
Los Penasquitos Canyon, 247 acres: close staging area and cease operations at Penasquitos Adobe and restrict area from public use. Retain land as a closed preserve.
Louis A. Seltzer, 314 acres: remove equipment.
Mission Trails Regional Park: sell or lease 1,353 acres of the total 4,574.48 acres to city of San Diego to operate as a regional park.
Otay Lake, 100 acres: return title of land to city of San Diego utilities department.
Pine Valley, 17 acres: remove equipment, rent residence and retain land ownership.
Potrero, 115 acres: remove equipment and campground improvements, lock gates.
Quail Botanical Gardens, 30 acres: allow nonprofit groups to salvage plant materials, close waterfall and ponds, lease houses to private parties or entire grounds to the Quail Foundation.
San Dieguito, 122 acres: remove all picnic facilities, property to revert to the local water district.
San Elijo Lagoon, 893 acres: cease all operations at lagoon, unmonitored public access could not be prevented.
Sweetwater, 539 acres: remove staff, discontinue development of summit campground, sell or lease all the property.
Most local parks and county wilderness areas also are proposed for closure, including the Mount Helix Amphitheatre, where the gates would be locked and the cross removed.