Save the California Conservation Corps

That’s what the four governors who preceded Arnold Schwarzenegger — two Democrats and two Republicans — are urging the GOP governor to do. 

Schwarzenegger’s budget released December 31 would eliminate the state conservation corps July 1, to save $17 million, a fraction of the state’s $42 billion budget shortfall. Its responsibilities would be transferred to local corps.

“The California Conservation Corps is one state agency that taxpayers should be proud to support,” the one page February 4 letter begins. “Despite very tough economic times, the CCC should not be eliminated.

“Save the CCC and allow it to continue its work for our youth and natural resources and for all Californians,” the letter concludes.

It is signed by GOP governors Pete WIlson and George Deukmejian as well as Democratic governors Gray Davis and Jerry Brown, who created the corps in 1976. It’s rare when the four agree. 

Modeled after Franklin Roosevelt’s Great Depression Civilian Conservation Corps, the state corps offers minimum wage mostly outdoor work to youth ages 18 to 23. California’s 1,310 corps members break trails, fight fires and perform a variety of maintenance tasks for the state park system, Calftrains and other state departments.

“We have all seen firsthand CCC crews responding to floods, fires, earthquakes, oil spills and more. Crews are dispatched within hours and work long days until the job is done. After more than 30 years, the corps is embedded as one of California’s premier emergency response forces and one of the most cost-effective.”

Work done by the corps for other state agencies in 2008 saved taxpayers nearly $31 million, the governors say.

The California Conservation Corps Foundation argues, as the governors do, that eliminating the corps’ state funding would be costlier to taxpayers. Corps members logged 500,000 firefighting hours in 2008, the foundation says If that work  were done by professional fire fighters the cost would have been $20 million.

Corps members provide more than 170,000 hours of free conservation work, saving taxpayers $2.4 million, according to the foundation. And without the corps, state parks would need $1.2 million more in trail construction funding.

The governors note that the CCC hires mostly unemployed youth who would otherwise be a financial burden to the state.

“In the corps, however, they develop solid skills and are motivated to pursue a career and an education. Their confidence skyrockets and most become contributing members of the state’s workforce.”

Schwarzenegger describes his proposal as a “realignment” of the state corps’ responsiblities to local corps. 

“This proposal will provide additional support for the 12 certified nonprofit local conservation corps by eliminating the state-level Conservation Corps and increasing state grant funding to the local corps,” was the description in his budget proposal.

However the governors point out that the local corps don’t want to take on the state corps’ emergency response role and cannot afford to do so, even under the governor’s plan to send them $10 million for training. 

Rather, they say with President Obama’s desire to create a “green corps” like Roosevelt’s CCC the state corps would be the perfect vehicle to do so and would likely receive additional federal funds.

The governors also invoke B.T. Collins who Brown named as director of the corps. Collins coined the corps’ motto — “Hard Work, Low Pay, Miserable Conditions” — and turned the organization into a model used by other states.

Collins, who lost an arm and a leg in Vietnam by laying on a grenade, “poured his heart and soul into the program,” the governors write.

“Because of his devotion to the corps, both as director and beyond, the program has continued to thrive and has benefited the lives of more than 100,000 participants.”

The letter was CCd to the members of the Legislature and Schwarzenegger’s finance director, Mike Genest.


Filed under: Budget and Economy


  1. There was never, a time since it’s inception that CCC was needed more.

    Comment by Wally Webgas — 2.06.2009 @ 5:40 pm

  2. The CCC is one of the best things in California Government. I am biased because I have served on it’s foundation board for the last five year. Before that I worked with the corps when BT was the director. The University helped make training films. Most notable, chain saw safety. They still use it. During that time, I observed the corps members and followed their progress after their time with the C’s. These kids became functioning, admirable adults. They finished their GED’s many went to college, got jobs and continued to be productive citizens. They became part of a wonderful family. Most of them would have been in jail or dead without the corps.
    This summer, I was honored to be at the 30 year anniversary of the corp at Yosemite. It was a spiritual experience. I have never seen a government program that worked so well. I was so proud to be a part of this program, even in a small way. It is a program that we want to keep. I am sure that the governor feels the same way. B

    Note to Greg: I am so glad you are still writing. We need you now more than ever. The pieces this week have given me a sense of context and purpose. Your depth of information and sense of humor make me want to keep working on problems and not give up. Wish I could read long stories by you everyday. Thanks

    Comment by barbara o'connor — 2.06.2009 @ 5:52 pm

  3. I, too, joined the CCC Foundation Board because — as a reporter — I saw first-hand the wonderful work corpsmembers have done over the years. CCC crews can respond to natural disasters anywhere in the state in a matter of hours. Since 1976, they’ve provided more than nine million hours of emergency repsonse. And the Corps turns around young lives in the process — with all corpsmembers advancing their education in the CCC. In the past three years, more than 4,000 corpsmembers worked to complete their high school diplomas. It’s a great program that should be saved.

    Comment by Steve Swatt — 2.07.2009 @ 12:47 pm

  4. The California Conservation Corps is California\’s best keep secret. I was once told by a Corpsmember that when the public calls 911 you get the Fire Department and when the Fire Department call 911 they get The California Conservation Corps

    Comment by paul — 2.07.2009 @ 9:24 pm

  5. Thank you for sharing the truth about the CCC. With all the miss information coming out of the Governor’s office it has been depressing. I have worked for the CCC for thirty years and have experienced first hand the positive life changing effects that the program’s hard work, continuing education and service to the community have to offer.

    As a Corpsmember thirty years ago I was encouraged by B.T. Collins to donate blood. Without the American Red Cross blood bank B.T. said he wouldn’t have survived his injuries in Vietnam. I have been giving blood ever since and think of B.T. each time.

    As in “It’s a Wonderful Life” what would this world look like if the CCC hadn’t been here? It is imperative that we save the CCC and that we ensure it is here for our future youth.

    Brenda Herrmann

    Comment by Brenda Herrmann — 2.08.2009 @ 7:58 am

  6. The Northcoast has benefited immensely from the CCC, mostly through watershed restoration and fire crews. I have seen first hand the remarkable dedication and commitment by the young people who have participated in these programs. In Del Norte and Humboldt counties, both with exceptional need for this kind of resource conservation work, the CCC has been an economic and environmental asset.The kids love it and are so enthusiastic about their work as well. With a little investment by the state , it is the gift that keeps on giving.

    THANK YOU for bringing this forward to your audience….(I agree with Barbara O’ Conner: we need you now more than ever!)

    Comment by virginia strom-martin — 2.09.2009 @ 9:28 am

  7. Remember, you read it here first! It took the New York Times until yesterday to catch up with Greg Lucas!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/us/08corps.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=California Conservation Corps&st=cse

    Comment by Mike Sicilia — 2.09.2009 @ 10:27 am

  8. It is reassuring to hear so many come forward and support the CCC. As a former member I was astonished and offended by the mis-information being spread by the Natural Resources Department (via Sandy Cooney) regarding the cost of the program “per member” in relation to the cost of one park rangers yearly wages. That is like taking the entire operating budget of CAL-FIRE and dividing it by the number of fire-fighters on the books at this time; then comparing it to the annual wages of a CCC member. It is important to put the cost of maintaining this program in context of cost benefit. This program has a lifelong impact on everyone who participates in it. And although that can be hard to quantify, the implications are there every year when you look at the increasing number of applicants and program graduates. We can all agree that difficult choices must be made to mitigate this financial crisis. I only hope that the big 5 are listening to the supporters and have an eye towards the future of California’s citizens.

    Comment by Raquel — 2.09.2009 @ 1:33 pm

  9. My son has been in the CCC for just over six months now. He is twenty years old, and it is the best thing that he has ever done. He dropped out of high school when he reached his 18th birthday and then had a series of dead end jobs. The CCC has given him direction. He has cleaned up his life and has a whole new attitude. He now has his GED and is taking a weekend class at a local community college. In just six short months he is a new person. I am a public school teacher and know that hard choices are ahead for many of us, but please listen to the former governors, the parents, and those whose lives are being changed. Save the CCC.

    Comment by Father of Corps Member — 2.10.2009 @ 10:52 pm

  10. I found this site in my search to see if the CCC survived the new budget just signed by the Governor. My daughter has gone through the first interview process and is quite excited about joining. I have warned her of the potential loss of the program, she can’t understand. Any word?

    Comment by David Ramos — 2.20.2009 @ 6:18 pm

  11. Yes, the Corps has been saved.

    I’m not sure about all the details, and I don’t know if there were any funding cuts.

    From what I’ve read, we managed over 20,000 faxes and tens of thousands of E-mails and phone calls in support.

    It’s not enough, of course. I entered the CCC in ’93 at the height of that recession, which wasn’t as bad as this one, and I was on a bus a week and half after submitting my application. I was homeless at the time and if I’d had to wait months to get in…well, I’m glad I didn’t. Currently, there is a waiting list 800 people long.

    Brenda – I have no idea if you’ll read this, or recognize the name, but it’s wonderfull to see you’re still there. It was always obvious to all of us, even when you had to make hard choices and do some of the more unpleasant parts of your job, that you really did care about us.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Jesse Walton — 2.22.2009 @ 1:05 pm

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