SACRAMENTO — The state Assembly voted Monday to place three bonds on next year's ballot that would raise more than $3 billion to improve state and local parks, update crime labs and build more affordable housing.
The bond money would continue a construction boom in California designed to repair a range of facilities neglected during the state's hard times and expand others to accommodate a growing population.
The urgency was underscored Monday when Republicans joined Democrats in supporting a $1.5-billion bond for state and local parks--the largest environmental spending plan in state history.
"We have allowed our infrastructure to rot and decay," said Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa (D-Los Angeles), co-author of the parks bond. "We have allowed the generation before us to make the tough choices and provide for the next generation. Now we have an opportunity to . . . make the sacrifices today for the future."
A hallmark of Villaraigosa's bond for parks and recreation is that nearly half the total would go to local cities and counties for urban and neighborhood parks.
More than $190 million would be spent in the Los Angeles area, where Villaraigosa said park space per capita is the lowest in the nation.
The parks bond passed 54 to 15, with nine Republicans and 44 Democrats and Green Party member Audie Bock voting for the plan.
The Assembly showed even more bipartisan cooperation in voting 55 to 8 for a $500-million bond to update 30 crime labs throughout the state with high-tech equipment, including DNA testing facilities.
The most controversial measure approved Monday calls for $750 million in spending for affordable housing statewide. The measure passed 45 to 29, with Republicans contending that private sector money would provide even more housing if state and local governments lifted burdensome regulations.
The three bonds passed Monday are headed to the Senate and then to Gov. Gray Davis. Prospects are uncertain because most lawmakers agree that the state cannot afford all the borrowing now under consideration.
In addition to the three bonds approved Monday, the Senate has endorsed a $16-billion bond for transportation needs and is considering its own plan for state parks. Other bonds for water facilities and new prisons are being considered.
The proposals come just a year after voters passed the largest bond in state history, sending more than $9 billion toward construction of new schools and the repair of old ones.
As of today, the state has about $22.4 billion in outstanding debt and is paying $2.6 billion in annual debt service. The Department of Finance estimates that California can afford about $9.5 billion more before Wall Street analysts begin to consider the state a higher credit risk.
In coming weeks, lawmakers will balance the fiscal condition against a host of compelling arguments for construction improvements.
Throughout the state park system, plumbing, painting and maintenance is so far behind that some historic structures dating back to the Gold Rush are in jeopardy. Elsewhere, bathrooms and visitor centers, picnic areas and hiking trails have not received significant funding since the 1960s.
Lawmakers have considered and rejected park repairs for several years. This time, the plan was significantly expanded to include city and county playgrounds and recreation areas.
Speaking on the Assembly floor, Villaraigosa told lawmakers about his son, who lives in the Mt. Washington area of Los Angeles and is forced to go to South Pasadena for the nearest recreation programs.
"If that is true for [my son], it is even more true for many other children," he said. "This is really about those kids. It's really about saying we will sacrifice for their future."
The $750-million housing bond was criticized even by Democrats for being "a drop in the bucket."
Officials estimated that the spending would build about 10,000 units of affordable housing statewide. Studies suggest California needs about 300,000 units.
Republicans argued that the only way to solve the problem is to create incentives for private builders to invest in affordable housing.