SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Republican lawmakers on Thursday failed to override Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of a bill that would have allowed local governments to take over the operations of state parks forced to close this summer because of budget cuts.
Had the attempt succeeded, it would have been the first override of a veto in California since Brown was first governor in the 1970s.
As many as 70 of the state's 278 parks, beaches and historic sites had been scheduled to close July 1 to save $33 million over two years. During the past few months, however, a variety of arrangements have been worked out that will allow nine of those to remain open, said Roy Stearns, a spokesman for the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
The bill by Sen. Sam Blakeslee, R-San Luis Obispo, would have allowed cities or counties to operate state parks that are threatened with closure. It passed last year with near-unanimous support, with just a single "no" vote in the Assembly.
Brown, a Democrat, vetoed SB356 but signed a separate bill by Democrats that allows nonprofits to help with some park operations.
He said in his veto message that Blakeslee's bill was not needed because the state parks department already had signed contracts with cities and counties that were willing to operate parks within their jurisdictions.
Stearns said the city of Colusa, for instance, has agreed to operate one nearby state recreation area, while the National Park Service will take over operation of three parks. A donor gave the state $300,000 to continue operating a fifth park among the nine that will remain open because of similar arrangements with donors or other governments.
Republicans, who hold 15 of the Senate's 40 seats, took turns criticizing the veto and urging majority Democrats to support an override. They said it would send a signal that the Legislature stands as a separate branch of government.
"We do not operate in a monarchy," Blakeslee said. "It's been some 30 years since this occurred. ... It may be time to override this governor's veto."
He drew some sympathy from Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, who said he previously and unsuccessfully had approached Democrat leaders in the Senate and Assembly about supporting an override of one of his vetoed bills.
Leno called it a "very historic process that needs to unfold because this has not happened in over a generation. And I think it should happen" to demonstrate the Legislature's independence. But he and Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, criticized Blakeslee for acting without building a consensus among members of both political parties and both legislative chambers.
Steinberg said Blakeslee should introduce a new bill, as do other lawmakers whose bills are vetoed, instead of challenging the governor and Democratic leaders.
"Where it is appropriate or where the issue is of great, great importance, we should always have the option of using the veto override," said Steinberg, who noted he voted for Blakeslee's bill. "This isn't the bill, this isn't the time. ... Let us get on with trying to work cooperatively with the executive."
Blakeslee's override motion failed on a party-line 13-22 roll call.
"I think it would be remarkable if it succeeded, but failure is rarely remarkable," said Gil Duran, a spokesman for Brown. "Many of these painful cuts could have been avoided if Republicans had simply allowed the people to vote."
GOP lawmakers last year blocked Brown's bid to put tax increases before voters, so this year he is gathering signatures in an attempt to raise taxes to avoid deeper cuts. He proposes to ask voters in November to raise income taxes on people who make $250,000 a year or more and boost the state sales tax by half a cent.
Blakeslee was one of five Republican senators who negotiated with Brown on the budget last year, until talks broke off when the two sides were unable to compromise on pension reforms. Democrats then passed a budget without tax increases.