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AB-2839 California Deserts Conservancy: establishment.(2019-2020)

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Date Published: 02/20/2020 09:00 PM
AB2839:v99#DOCUMENT


CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2019–2020 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 2839


Introduced by Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia

February 20, 2020


An act to add Division 23.6 (commencing with Section 33810) to the Public Resources Code, relating to conservation.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 2839, as introduced, Eduardo Garcia. California Deserts Conservancy: establishment.
Existing law establishes in the Natural Resources Agency various conservancies authorized to acquire, hold, and manage, as specified, certain lands within particular geographic parts of the state in order to conserve, preserve, or protect lands within those areas for public benefit.
This bill would establish the California Deserts Conservancy in the agency to undertake various conservation activities, as prescribed, related to the California deserts region, as defined, to protect, conserve, and restore that region’s natural, cultural, archaeological, historical, and physical resources, among other functions. The bill would require the conservancy to be governed by a 13-member board of directors, as prescribed, with up to 3 additional nonvoting board members, as specified. The bill would authorize the conservancy to adopt guidelines setting priorities and criteria for projects and programs throughout the California deserts region, and authorize the conservancy to make grants and loans to local public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and tribal organizations in order to carry out the purposes of the bill’s provisions. The bill would create the California Deserts Conservancy Fund within the State Treasury and make moneys in this fund available, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for the purposes of implementing the bill’s provisions.
This bill would make legislative findings and declarations relating to California deserts.
Vote: MAJORITY   Appropriation: NO   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Division 23.6 (commencing with Section 33810) is added to the Public Resources Code, to read:

DIVISION 23.6. CALIFORNIA DESERTS CONSERVANCY

CHAPTER  1. General Provisions and Definitions

33810.
 This division shall be known, and may be cited, as the California Deserts Conservancy Act.

33811.
 The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) The Mojave and Colorado Deserts, hereafter referred to as the California deserts, are a globally significant area, including many national parks and preserves, national monuments, wilderness areas and state parks, and the lowest point in the 48 contiguous states, with large, pristine areas that are open for public use.
(b) The California deserts are an important part of the state’s economy, with total direct travel spending in the California deserts region estimated in 2018 at seven billion six hundred million dollars ($7,600,000,000) and supporting 73,000 jobs. Total government revenue generated by travel in the California deserts region for 2018 was six hundred nine million dollars ($609,000,000).
(c) The California deserts region’s popularity among California and international recreationists has more than doubled within the past five years. Visitation to Joshua Tree National Park increased by 47 percent between 2013 and 2018. During the same period, visits to Death Valley National Park increased by 57 percent and visits to Mojave National Preserve increased by 70 percent.
(d) The California deserts region provides world-class opportunities for hiking, camping, sightseeing, rock climbing, rock hounding, off-highway vehicle use, and many other recreational activities.
(e) Undisturbed desert lands are known to sequester carbon and contribute to climate change resilience.
(f) Nonnative, invasive grasses, such as Mediterranean grass and cheatgrass, create continuous fuel beds across desert lands that can spark and support massive wildfires in areas where fire was previously rare.
(g) The California deserts are characterized as having high biological diversity. In the Mojave Desert, there is an approximate total of 1,500 plant taxa with 210 being endemic to California.
(h) The California deserts region is home to iconic species such as the Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia), the federally threatened desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii), and species of special concern such as the desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), which requires wildlife corridors to maintain healthy populations.
(i) Water sources within the California deserts region are comprised of both groundwater and surface water that provide critical sustenance for unique and diverse ecosystems. Groundwater elevations should be stable and not overdrafted to maintain the surface flow of springs that support the fragile ecosystems in the region. Proposed groundwater extraction projects have threatened water supplies in the California deserts region.

33812.
 For the purpose of this division, the following definitions apply:
(a) “Board” means the board of directors governing the California Deserts Conservancy.
(b) “Conservancy” means the California Deserts Conservancy established pursuant to this division.
(c) “Nonprofit” means a private, nonprofit organization that qualifies for exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of Title 26 of the Internal Revenue Code.
(d) “Local public agency” includes, but is not limited to, a city, county, city and county, district, association of governments, or joint powers authority.
(e) “Tribe” means any federally recognized Native American tribe or a nonfederally recognized Native American tribe listed on the California Tribal Consultation List maintained by the Native American Heritage Commission.
(f) “Region” or “California deserts region” means the nearly 25 million acre area of southeastern California lying within the Counties of Imperial, Inyo, Kern, Los Angeles, Mono, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego that is within the California Desert Conservation Area as that area was delineated in the map and legal description of the California Desert Conservation Area prepared by the United States Secretary of the Interior pursuant to Section 1781(c) of Title 43 of the United States Code, as that map and legal description was in effect on December 31, 2020. The Coachella Valley Mountains Conservancy area, as described in Section 33502, shall be excluded from, and not part of, the California deserts region.
(g) “Subregion” means the following particular portions of the California deserts region as those areas are demarcated on the version of the map of the California Desert Conservation Area prepared by the United States Secretary of the Interior pursuant to Section 1781(c) of Title 43 of the United States Code, as that map was in effect on December 31, 2020:
(1) The northern subregion, generally comprising portions of the Counties of Inyo and Mono.
(2) The west-central region, generally comprising portions of the Counties of Kern and Los Angeles.
(3) The central region, generally consisting of portions of the County of San Bernardino.
(4) The south-central region, generally consisting of portions of the County of Riverside.
(5) The south region, generally consisting of portions of the County of San Diego and all of the County of Imperial.

CHAPTER  2. California Deserts Conservancy

33813.
 (a) The California Deserts Conservancy is hereby created as a state agency within the Natural Resources Agency to undertake various activities related to the California deserts region.
(b) The conservancy shall be governed by a board of directors of 13 voting members, appointed or designated as follows:
(1) The Secretary of the Natural Resources Agency, or the secretary’s designee.
(2) The Director of Finance, or the director’s designee.
(3) One public member, who is not an elected official, appointed by the Governor, to represent statewide interests.
(4) One public member, who is not an elected official, appointed by the Speaker of the Assembly, to represent statewide interests.
(5) One public member, who is not an elected official, appointed by the Senate Committee on Rules, to represent statewide interests.
(6) Eight members representing the five subregions, with each county within a subregion entitled to have one member who shall be appointed by the board of supervisors of that county.
(c) The board may include three nonvoting members as follows:
(1) One representative from the National Park Service.
(2) One representative from the Department of Parks and Recreation.
(3) One representative from the Bureau of Land Management in the United States Department of the Interior.

33814.
 The functions of the conservancy within the region shall include, but not be limited to, the following:
(a) Protect, conserve, and restore the region’s natural, cultural, archaeological, historical, and physical resources.
(b) Provide for resilience to climate change.
(c) Protect and improve water and air quality.
(d) Provide increased opportunities for tourism and recreation.
(e) Engage community members across diverse interests through education, outreach, and volunteer projects.
(f) Assist the regional economy through the operation of the conservancy’s programs.
(g) Identify the highest priority projects and initiatives for which funding is needed and make grants to fund them.
(h) Provide grants for the acquisition of available unique and fragile regional parcels of land for conservation and wildlife corridor preservation, with potential conveyance to federal or state agencies.
(i) Provide grants for capital improvements for recreational facilities to encourage and enhance access for visitors, including nontraditional users.
(j) Reduce the risk of natural disasters, such as wildfires, and provide for the recovery and enhancement of plant and animal populations by controlling invasive species.
(k) Undertake efforts to enhance public use and enjoyment of lands owned by the public.
(l) Support efforts that advance both environmental preservation and the economic well-being of desert residents in a complementary manner.

33815.
 The conservancy may make grants and loans to local public agencies, nonprofit organizations, and tribal organizations in order to carry out the purposes of this division, which include, but are not limited to, acquiring interests in real property and managing properties, including by using nonwasting endowments.

33816.
 The conservancy shall adopt guidelines setting priorities and criteria for projects and programs based on its assessment of program requirements, institutional capabilities, and funding needs throughout the region.

33817.
 The California Deserts Conservancy Fund is hereby created within the State Treasury. Moneys in the fund shall be available, upon appropriation by the Legislature, for the purposes of this division.