Anyone who has been in Davis during the summer knows it gets hot here.
“The middle of summer in Davis isn’t the best time to stand out in the sun,” said Ruth Williams, president of Tree Davis, a nonprofit organization that planted 424 trees in Davis last year. And no right-minded UCD student takes a tree for granted as they race from one shaded sanctuary to the next on a sweltering August afternoon.
Yet Tree Davis is one of the thousands of environmental projects that have lost state funding as a result of the California budget crisis.
The California Pooled Money Investment Board, or PMIB, decided to freeze all state bond funds last December in response to the $15 billion General Fund deficit California currently faces. That deficit is projected to reach $42 billion over the next 18 months. Because no one is buying state bonds, there is no money for bond funding.
The freeze is also due to the fact that the California legislature has yet to pass a new budget. Over 4,000 statewide conservation projects have received a “stop-work” notice due to the freeze on bond funds. The PMIB has since voted to release $650 million in bond funds, though none will be going to environmental projects. In total, state officials suspended about $637 million in bond funding to environmental projects.
Tree Davis had a three-year contract with the California Department of Forestry that guaranteed funds through state bonds for much of Tree Davis‘ cost of giving away and planting trees. The contract, which would have covered the $11,000 it cost to give away over 200 shade trees last year, was cut short in December. Tree Davis has yet to hear word on when they will receive the money owed them. All future projects are now officially on hold.
“It really damages the flow and chronology of what happens when,” Williams said regarding the planting season.
Tree Davis has planted over about 8,000 trees in Davis since it first began in 1992. Every year, 200 trees will remove 10 tons of CO2 and 2000 pounds of pollutants from the air, save $30,000 per mile for road resurfacing by deflecting sunlight, reduce storm water runoff costs by $1,100 and provide habitat for many animals, Williams said.
Trees can also save money on PG&E bills. Trees that shade houses can reduce energy consumption, especially during peak hours when the customers demand the most energy. By cooling the house, people use less air conditioning. These trees don’t come naturally, however.
“It’s not like back east where trees magically spring up from the ground,” said Williams. “It doesn’t rain enough.“
Tree Davis isn’t the only project suffering. The Yolo County Resource Conservation District, or YCRCD, which organizes projects to serve local agricultural and environmental needs, has had to cut staff hours in half. About 70 percent of the YCRCD projects were halted by the freeze. Many UC Davis graduate students have also seen their funding for research projects put on hold.
“Pretty much any group in California that does restoration projects has been affected,” said Mary Kimball of the Center for Land-Based Learning in Winters.
The center, another nonprofit organization, has a program known as SLEWS that matches high school science classes in Yolo, Marin, Solano and Sacramento Counties with restoration projects. These restoration projects require adult moderators that are often UC Davis students. Of the 17 restoration projects that SLEWS participates in, nine have been halted.
The Center for Land-Based Learning also receives extensive funding from the state and has yet to receive funding for some work done before the freeze occurred. Kimball said that the state is telling environmental groups to work at their own risk. Though some projects can be continued for a time on small donations, others risk voiding their contracts if continued. Thus, volunteers are not in need at the moment because so many projects have been stopped.
“If UC Davis students want to get involved, the biggest thing they can do is raise a ruckus about it,” Kimball said.
“I find the current situation beyond challenging,” said California state Representative Mariko Yamada (D-Davis), whose district includes most of Yolo and Solano Counties. “It’s actually spiraling out of control.“
Yamada said the root of the problem was party politics.
“In a nutshell, it’s the absence of true bipartisanship,” she said. “We’re supposed to be elected to solve problems.”
Regardless of the origins of the bond freeze, it is clear that environmental projects are not even on the stove, let alone the backburner. But Tree Davis is still pushing forward. There will be a Valentine‘s Day Tree Planting on Feb. 14, as well as future volunteer opportunities on Feb. 19 and Mar. 1. Details can be found at TreeDavis.org.
“These are valuable programs,” said state Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) in a written statement. “But everyone is hurting. The sooner we get a budget deal, the better.“
RONNY SMITH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX