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California and the West

Blame All Around for Poor Party Planning

Sesquicentennial: Finger-pointing continues over state's failure to mount a celebration for its 150th anniversary. Secretary of State Bill Jones defends his efforts.

May 16, 1999|BETTINA BOXALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

There may not be much of a party to celebrate the 150th anniversary of statehood next year, but there's already plenty of brawling.

Political fighting is in high gear in Sacramento over the stumbling efforts to organize celebrations of California's upcoming sesquicentennial.

Criticized by a legislative task force for his handling of the anniversary plans, Republican Secretary of State Bill Jones is firing back. Meanwhile, an Assembly budget subcommittee chaired by Torrance Democrat George Nakano voted last week to eliminate funding from Jones' budget for the sesquicentennial.

Both Jones and the subcommittee were reacting to the unflattering report on the sesquicentennial project prepared by the Joint Legislative Staff Task Force on Government Oversight.

The cover page of the recently issued report bears a photo of a sinking ship--a none too subtle reference to the tall ships race that was to be a centerpiece of the celebrations but was canceled for lack of funding.

The report faults Jones, saying he has failed to do what he was appointed to do more than a year ago: turn around the troubled sesquicentennial project.

"Unfortunately, it appears that there has been little improvement in the overall management of the sesquicentennial effort, despite a sensible reorganization plan," the report states.

The report recognizes only one major success, the World Gold Panning Championships held last fall in Coloma, where the Gold Rush started on the eve of statehood. Otherwise, it contends, much of what the Sesquicentennial Commission and Foundation have done, they have not done well.

"The Sesquicentennial Commission and Foundation do not work," it continues, recommending the elimination of the foundation, which is supposed to raise private funds.

The task force further suggested that responsibility for the sesquicentennial efforts be shifted to the governor and the Legislature.

Jones rebutted the report item by item. "It's totally a misrepresentation," he said. "I think it was a very partisan report, politically inspired . . . and in no way represented the effort that was put forward by our office and our staff."

Jones in turn pointed a finger at Gov. Gray Davis, saying potential corporate donors are hesitant to commit funding because they don't know if he supports the effort.

A spokesman for Davis said he wants to see a successful celebration but did not receive financial information on the commission until a few weeks ago, and that showed the effort was in debt as of Dec. 31.

The sesquicentennial commission envisioned three years of celebrations to commemorate the discovery of gold in 1848, the Gold Rush the next year, and California's statehood in 1850.

But former Gov. Pete Wilson restricted state support to $2.9 million over three years and wanted the rest of the funding to come from the private sector. Aside from $2 million from the Mervyn's chain, major donations have yet to materialize.

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