One of the most upsetting things I’ve read lately (and these days I’m reading plenty) was an article about a proposal to eliminate the California Conservation Corps in the effort to balance our state budget.  The Corps was founded by then-Governor Jerry Brown in 1976 on the model of the Depression-era Civilian Conservation Corps, which put millions of unemployed Americans back to work improving the nation’s parks and green spaces.  According to the article, the California Corps today employs 1,300 young people, most of them disadvantaged in one way or another, in similar work around the state.


Long Beach has its own Conservation Corps, and I was relieved to learn from its Executive Director that it’s an independent non-profit that would not be axed by the proposal to eliminate the state program.  However, Long Beach’s Corps does receive a small amount of state funding each year.  The local Corps has done a lot for our city (and several neighboring cities) at a low cost:  planted tens of thousands of trees, cleaned up graffiti and litter, maintained and even helped develop city parks.  An inspiring list of Long Beach Corps projects can be found here.


I just can’t imagine that eliminating the state’s version of this hopeful, constructive program would truly result in a net budget savings.  Here’s my letter to the Governor explaining the rest.  If you are motivated to write, please feel free to borrow any or all of my words.


Dear Governor Schwarzenegger:


On Sunday, February 8th, the New York Times reported that state funding for the California Conservation Corps could be eliminated under a budget you have proposed.  As a resident of Long Beach, I am writing to ask that you reconsider your proposal to eliminate this program.


For several reasons, I think it’s a terrible idea to cut the statewide Conservation Corps.  The Corps provides jobs, not only for its own staff but for well over a thousand young people throughout the state.  This seems a cruel and inopportune time to eliminate so many jobs – especially “green jobs” like those being advocated by President Obama and Van Jones of Green for All.


Moreover, these jobs almost certainly create a net benefit for the residents of California.  A 1997 study of local youth corps found that each position creates $600 in net benefits to society – and this study was limited to very short-term effects.  I suspect that any immediate savings from cutting this program would be wiped out by far greater expenditures in other public programs as many at-risk young people lose Corps jobs.  The work experience they gain through the Corps often puts them on a constructive life path.


I also believe that Corps participants benefit from the closer connection with nature that is fostered by conservation work, and that our state’s natural resources will enjoy better stewardship as a result.


I hope you will re-evaluate the net benefits of the California Conservation Corps and drop your proposal to eliminate the program.  Thank you very much for considering my views.