Sacramento — Fuel tax revenue now earmarked for support of off-highway vehicular recreation can be used for other forms of recreation as well, according to a California Legislative Counsel opinion released today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). The opinion could free desperately needed funds to support unpaved road maintenance throughout the entire state park system.
The Off Highway Vehicle (OHV) Division of the state Department of Parks & Recreation has long held the position that the approximately $60 million the OHV Trust Fund receives each year may be used only for projects benefiting dirt bikes, all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) or snowmobiles although nearly 83% of the funds are generated from street legal vehicles. Consequently, the OHV Division has refused to fund any project that does not provide recreation benefits to so-called “Green Sticker” off-road vehicles, despite plain language in the statute to the contrary.
In an opinion letter written to state Senator Fran Pavley on October 7, Legislative Counsel Diane Boyer-Vine concluded that OHV Trust fund revenue may be spent to provide motorized access to non-motorized recreation. This Legislative Counsel opinion was sought by PEER California Field Director Karen Schambach, following a lengthy exchange with OHV Division Chief Phil Jenkins, who insisted any projects funded by OHV grant funds must be limited to projects which benefit unlicensed vehicles.
“The lion’s share of fuel tax revenues that make up the OHV Trust Fund come from people driving on dirt roads to access hiking, fishing or camping and these people should be able to benefit from their own tax contributions,” Schambach stated. “The language of the statute on this issue is crystal clear.”
State parks like Anza Borrego and Red Rock Canyon, for example, with hundreds of miles of dirt roads, could benefit from fuel tax transfers, but these parks are being denied funding unless they allow noisy and destructive dirt bikes and ATVs. Citing the legal opinion from the state Legislature’s top lawyer, PEER has sent a letter to the Department of Parks and Recreation warning it to stop withholding funding from projects that serve hundreds of thousands of California recreationists.
The current OHV-only funding policy has also affected U.S. Forest Service Travel Management Plans, PEER contends. The Forest Service has a road maintenance budget deficit of more than a billion dollars but under the state’s current funding policy, only roads designated for dirt bike and ATV users are eligible for the State recreation grants.
“The OHV Division is supposed to administer the fund, not be advocates for one type of recreation,” said Schambach. “With funding for recreation drying up, it is unconscionable that tens of millions of dollars are being hoarded for off-road vehicles.”