California’s popular Environmental Enhancement and Mitigation Program (EEMP) was funded at $7 million in the 2013-14 State Budget through legislation signed by Governor Jerry Brown today. This is the only statewide local assistance funding for urban forestry for this fiscal year.
While the reinstatement of EEMP funding certainly comes as a welcome addition to the state budget, the real news is focused around permanent changes to the EEMP, and the creation of a new program that could provide competitive grants for recreational resources.
The measure signed by Governor Brown (Senate Bill 99) restructures elements of the EEMP, as follows:
1. The administration of the EEMP moves from the Department of Transportation to the Natural Resources Agency. This is a major victory for the conservation community that was 20 years in the making. As a permanent program of the Agency, we anticipate several changes – all of which should benefit grantees and applicants. This includes a commitment from the Agency to manage agreements as grants and not contracts. And also includes funding to support a full-time position within the Agency for this program.
2. The EEMP will focus primarily on funding resource lands and urban forestry. Since its creation, the EEMP has also funded “roadside recreation” projects (i.e. parks and trails). These projects are removed from the EEMP and will be funded elsewhere. Consequently, the annual appropriation to the EEMP will be reduced from $10 million to $7 million (a slight gain for the remaining two categories given that roadside recreation grants typically accounted for 35% of all funded projects over the last five years).
3. Parks and recreational trails will be eligible to compete for an even larger pot of funds established under the new Active Transportation Program, which was the main component of SB 99. This Program will give a 30% boost in dedicated state funding for projects that increase the proportion of trips accomplished by biking and walking in California, increase safety and mobility for nonmotorized users, and advance the active transportation efforts of regional agencies to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals. Projects eligible for funding include development of new bikeways, walkways, recreational trails, and parks. The Active Transportation Program will be funded with $124 million in state and federal dollars, and contain both a regional competitive and statewide competitive program. Twenty-five percent of the funds must be used for projects that benefit disadvantaged communities.
Both the Natural Resources Agency and the California Transportation Commission will be developing grant guidelines in the coming weeks. California ReLeaf will continue to remain engaged through this process, and encourage the Network to provide public comment on both drafts forthcoming.
Finally, and as always, partnerships are the cornerstone of our success. And this success story would not have happened without the great work of the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, TransForm, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, Nature Conservancy, Trust for Public Land, Pacific Forest Trust, and the California Council of Land Trusts.