Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Why we need state parks - or not

Point Lobos SP

Camp Connell, CA -- In November voters in California are being asked whether or not they think state parks are worth saving for future generations.

I understand that not every voter or would-be voter sees the question as that significant. Some people, judging by the blogs and comments I have seen in recent weeks, think it is a simple matter of opposing a new "tax." Some think it is a "user's fee" and they don't see themselves as users. Others believe the legislature should just take care of it. (None of those positions is based in reality, but I'll try to keep this blog positive.)

I think the ballot proposition is important as a measure of what we truly value, and what investments we feel are worth protecting.

Mono Lake Tufa Towers SP

A grass roots collection of people who like state parks managed to get enough signatures to get Proposition 21 on the state ballot. This was not a push by a giant out-of-state corporation that wants to keep polluting, or even a political "reform measure" by Democrats or Republicans attempting to guarantee their party's futures.
It is not anti-union, or anti-business. About the only implied criticism in the proposition is that the California legislature is incompetent and/or corrupt, an opinion shared by a majority of Californians.
Park advocates in this state, mostly from non-profit organizations that support parks and recreation, see this as a way to protect the future, went to work, and got enough signatures to force an election issue.

Asilomar State Beach Park

Here's what the proposition will do if passed:
-- Create a stable source of funding for the long-neglected state parks system by charging $18 more annually for each private vehicle car tag (business and RVs are exempt). That will create enough money to operate all the state parks every year.
-- Provide every Californian driving a private family vehicle free admission to state parks, a bargain for frequent park users and an incentive for others.
-- Remove the need for the legislature to pay for state parks from the general fund, freeing millions of dollars for other essential state services.
-- Take park budgeting out of the hands of the legislature (which can't figure out how to write a workable budget) and the governor (who annually threatens to shut down parks).
-- Boost rural counties' economies by providing stability to parks that are often the largest tourist attraction in the region. (My county, for example, receives between $6 million and $10 million in revenues to local small businesses from our park's tourists every year.)
-- Protect a major contributor to children's education, both outdoor and historical.
-- Allow deferred maintenance, to the tune of billions of dollars, to be slowly caught up with. That means less broken toilets, flooded septic systems, and run down facilities.
-- Protect billions of dollars invested in rare, spectacular or unique treasures within the state. California parks include uncut Coastal Redwood trees, popular surfing beaches, historical treasures from the Gold Rush, the best Railroad Museum in the world, winter beach spots for tourists, critical habitat for endangered species, historic sites from World War Two and Giant Sequoia groves, to name a few of over 200 special places.
From the border below San Diego to the Oregon boundary, every Californian is within an easy half-day of some spectacular sanctuary or spot important to our sense of history.

Bodie Ghost Town SP

Here's what the proposition won't do:
-- Allow the legislature to tap into park funds to pay their own salaries, trips to Hawaii, or meet with corporate lobbyist. The funds will be secured against tampering.
-- Allow the governor to use parks and their employees as political chips in the endless game of chicken California loves so much.
-- Add any burden to the already struggling state treasury. It is entirely self funding.

Little organized opposition exists to the proposition, and it has lots of grass roots supporters though not much money is being spent.
But passage is far from assured due to several factors a work in California these days. Voters are really and truly fed up with state government. Some anti-tax groups are urging a no vote based on misunderstanding where the money comes from, and how it will be protected from the legislature. And really embarrassing to me, some of the state's newspapers have opposed the measure based on lack of research or understand of how the proposition will work.
And there's always the "what's in it for me" crowd that claim they never visit a state park and never will so don't want to pay anything to support them. These same people don't want to pay taxes for roads in another part of the state ("Never drive there...") or for any public schools or libraries or museums ("Don't have kids, don't read, don't look...)"

Angel Island SP, San Francisco Bay

Unless the voters understand what they are being asked, and what they stand to lose, I fear the measure will fail.

I don't want my children and grandchildren to miss out on all that the state parks provide, but if it fails I hope the governor shuts down every park in the state. I hope they padlock the gates, go into a mothball status, and then let the legislature and the voters see what they have done.

In a couple of years we will understand the important role parks play in our lives, and can begin to repair the damage.

My livelihood does not depend on the state parks staying open. The benefits I gain are more family oriented, as that is where we gather often to celebrate being together, and that is where I take long walks.
I also volunteer to keep the trails open (not enough maintenance staff), guide walks (not enough interpreters) and help people find their way (not enough directional signs).
But I can use my time doing other things, and can find another place to walk in the woods.

But I hate to think of the waste and short-sightedness that would create that situation.
Calaveras Big Trees State Park

For more on the campaign FOR state parks, go to the following web sites:




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