California's stimulus watchdog says small state office is delaying projects

As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger prepares to emphasize job creation as his top priority in his State of the State address, his watchdog for federal stimulus dollars says a tiny state office is delaying hundreds of projects that could employ out-of-work Californians.

Laura Chick, state inspector general for American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds, said Monday that the California Office of Historic Preservation has a two-month backlog in approving federal stimulus projects, some as small as installing a heating and air conditioning unit.

Chick said state-mandated furloughs have contributed to the backlog, and she suggested that the state should allow historians to delay taking furloughs.

She also said the Schwarzenegger administration could shift other state workers as needed to the Office of Historic Preservation to reduce the backlog.

"There are human beings standing on the street, waiting for an employer to say, 'OK, I need you to work, I'm ready to pay you,' " Chick said. "If there's a bunch of paper sitting on somebody's desk, and the review could be 15 days instead of 60 days, that's 45 days of holding up jobs from being created."

Under federal law, the office must review federally funded construction projects to ensure they do not adversely affect historic sites.

Chick estimated that hundreds of projects are awaiting review by the Office of Historic Preservation, many of which she suggested would have no significant consequences on historic properties.

The delayed projects range from trail repair in the Redwood National and State Parks to road widening in Chowchilla.

Schwarzenegger spokeswoman Camille Anderson said Monday that the governor last week ordered the Office of Historic Preservation to eliminate its backlog within 30 days. She said the administration is providing additional workers to handle the review process.

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