A frustrated Larry Ruhstaller urged his colleagues on the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors to sell or donate the Woodbridge Wilderness Area to avoid county liability in case of a fire.
Ruhstaller, at Tuesday's opening of county budget hearings, also said that the county shouldn't restore funding to improve Micke Grove Zoo's chances of having its national accreditation restored because of what he sees as a "disconnect" between county administrators and the San Joaquin County Zoological Society.
In a series of hearings ranging from the county administrator's office to the registrar of voters, libraries and public improvements, the Board of Supervisors denied a $50,000 request from the county Parks and Recreation Department to improve the Woodbridge Wilderness Area and $120,000 to restore Micke Grove's zoo education program in south Lodi.
Parks and Recreation Director Craig Ogata said that invasive plants in the county-owned wilderness area have crept up to property lines of homes, mostly in the River Meadows subdivision in Woodbridge.
Residents and county officials recall the devastating brush fire in September 2008 that blackened much of the 17-acre property and threatened homes in the River Meadows and Del Rio subdivisions.
The wilderness area has been closed ever since, and it will remain closed due to budget constraints for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The $50,000 funding request was merely to clear plants near homes.
"This is only to address the fire danger," Ogata told the Board of Supervisors. "It does not open up the park."
Ruhstaller said he is concerned about the county's liability in case of another major fire. The county needs a detailed plan in place that would meet a judge's satisfaction in the event of a lawsuit, Ruhstaller said.
"Why don't we sell this thing, or give it to Friends of the Earth?" Ruhstaller asked. "Why don't we offer it for $1 to the homeowners and let them deal with it? I see absolutely zero benefit in having this land."
Supervisor Ken Vogel, whose district includes Woodbridge said, "That may be a rational idea there."
Supervisor Leroy Ornellas added, "Maybe a nonprofit can take it on as their project."
Ogata said the county acquired the property in 1985 to satisfy a condition to develop the River Meadows subdivision.
Budget hearings will continue at 9 a.m. today and Thursday in Stockton, starting with the Sheriff's, district attorney, probation, public defender, jail and related law enforcement budgets.
Meanwhile, Ruhstaller was also on the warpath about restoring staff-recommended cuts to the Micke Grove Zoo budget. The board denied reinstatement of $152,000 to restore the education and interpretive service coordinator, plus zoo program materials.
The request, also by Parks and Recreation, was intended to improve Micke Grove's chances of having its accreditation restored. The zoo's accreditation was not renewed by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums in 2006.
"I don't want to be negative, but this zoo is all screwed up," Ruhstaller said.
Without elaborating, Ruhstaller said that zoo management and San Joaquin County Zoological Society suffer from a "disconnect" that needs to be addressed.
The zoo is also losing one full-time and two part-time animal care specialists, which zoo director Ken Nieland said reduces the level of animal care by 26 percent.
In other action Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors approved several funding requests from nonprofit organizations, including $58,000 to the San Joaquin County Historical Society and $60,000 to the San Joaquin Partnership, a nonprofit agency designed to generate jobs.
County budget hearings to continue today
The San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors will continue its budget hearings at 9 a.m. today in Stockton. Hearings are scheduled to last all day today and continue for a full day on Thursday. A final vote on the budget is scheduled for Thursday afternoon.
— Law and justice, including sheriff's office, jail, coroner, district attorney, public defender, probation, child support services, county support to courts, court-assigned counsel, grand jury.
— Agricultural commissioner, including animal control.
— Community development.
— Weights and measures.
— Neighborhood preservation.
— Local Agency Formation Commission.
— Office of Emergency Services.
— Public works.
— Water resources.
— Solid waste.
— Human services, including aging, employment and economic development, veterans' services, First 5 Program, Head Start, Mary Graham Children's Shelter.
— Public health.
— San Joaquin General Hospital.
— Mental health.
— Substance abuse/crime prevention.
— Health within the county jail.
— Fees for planning applications, fire permits, other permits, ambulance service, mental health, substance abuse, county park rental, jail booking, flood control, lighting and maintenance districts.
The hearings will be held in the board chambers, 44 N. San Joaquin St. at Weber Avenue, sixth floor, Stockton.
Three more bargaining units agree to concessions
In an attempt to reduce layoffs, the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors approved changes to memorandums of understanding with three bargaining units on Tuesday in an effort to reduce employee layoffs.
Concession agreements were made with the Sheriff's sergeants and management units and with the county attorney bargaining unit.
Earlier in June, the Board of Supervisors approved concessions by the county Deputy Sheriff's and Correctional Officers associations, and in May, county probation officers agreed to concessions.
Here's a summary of the agreements approved on Tuesday:
— MOU for Sheriff's sergeants and management extended four years to June 30, 2015; attorney bargaining unit MOU extended for one year to June 30, 2012.
— Void previously agreed-upon salary increases from July 1, 2010, to June 30, 2011, for management and sergeants.
— All three units agreed to an early retirement incentive.
— For Sheriff's sergeants: Salary increases will be one percent on July 2, 2012, another one percent on Jan. 14, 2013, 1.5 percent on July 1, 2013, two percent on Jan. 13, 2014, two percent on July 14, 2014, and 2.5 percent on Jan. 12, 2015.
— For Sheriff's management: Two-percent raises on July 1, 2013, Jan. 13 and July 14, 2014, and Jan. 12, 2015.
— For attorneys: Separate 2.5- and five-percent raises will be postponed a year to July 4, 2011.
— Savings: $150,000 over five years for Sheriff's management, $349,000 for Sheriff's sergeants for the next fiscal year and $950,800 for attorneys for the next fiscal year. Savings doesn't include costs associated with early-retirement package.
Source: San Joaquin County