BY ADAM ASHTON
Gov. Jerry Brown’s final budget proposal includes an eye-popping surprise for California's Native American tribes.
It sets aside $100 million to begin building a California Indian Heritage Center on a 43-acre riverfront campus in West Sacramento.
Native American and city leaders who’ve advocated for the project for more than a decade did not know the money was in the budget that Brown released on Friday.
“It came as a shock and I went, ‘Oh, thank you, Lord,’” said Reba Fuller of the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians. She’s been on the project’s board of directors since 2007.
West Sacramento Mayor Christopher Cabaldon also did not know Brown planned to boost the project. The Legislature must approve the spending for the project to begin, but its inclusion in Brown's proposal is a good sign.
“It’s a welcome surprise,” he said. “This is a project that we’ve been working on for quite some time and the objective has never changed: To create a center that is worthy of Native American heritage in this state.”
The Indian Heritage Center is intended to replace the State Indian Museum at Sutter’s Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento. It would be managed by the Parks and Recreation Department in collaboration with tribal representatives.
The new facility is expected to cost about $200 million with tribes raising money to fund the other half of the project. It’ll sit on land at the confluence of the Sacramento and American rivers in West Sacramento.
The main access to the site would be Marina Way off of Lighthouse Drive. West Sacramento donated the land for the project in 2007.
“This obviously is a leap to the finish line,” Cabaldon said. “The plan for the center involves several phases, so a good deal of it could be under construction and complete with $100 million.”
Brown and the state's Native American tribes have been allies in his second run as governor. Tribes have donated to his political campaigns and contributed more than $1 million to charities for which he solicits funds — two charter schools in Oakland, according to state records.
State Parks and Recreation Director Lisa Mangat said the Brown administration reached out to West Sacramento and tribal leaders recently to tell them the governor would make a significant commitment to the project.
The department did not disclose a number in those discussions, she said, and that may have contributed to the surprise the project's supporters expressed when they learned the scale of the funding request.
She said the $100 million budget request should send a signal that project has momentum, and help tribes raise money to complete it.
"It's a really big deal," she said.
Descriptions of the project released by the Department of Parks and Recreation show that it was moving forward from 2007 to 2011, culminating with the release of a 490-page environmental impact report in July 2011.
The site would host cultural programming, host tens of thousands of artifacts and provide a statewide interpretation of Native American history.
The project languished after the environmental report. Fuller said a series of tight state budgets coming out of the recession left little room to launch the center.
Now, the state is in the black and on track to build a $17 billion reserve by next year. “It’s an opportunity of a lifetime,” Fuller said.