An Important Step for Parks

An important line in the sand got drawn for state parks last month when Governor Brown signed two bills into law, Assembly Bill (AB) 1478 (Blumenfield) and Assembly Bill (AB) 1589 (Huffman). Both bills have measures that will help California’s ailing state parks system.

AB 1478 appropriates the recently-identified $20.5 million in State Park and Recreation Fund funding to the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to keep parks open that had previously been slated for closure. The bill also contains new qualifications for appointing members to the nine-member State Park and Recreation Commission. The changes to the Commission are intended to improve its ability and capacity to provide oversight of DPR and foster a more meaningful connection between the public, park stakeholders, and DPR. AB 1478 also establishes a two-year moratorium on closing state parks, in Fiscal Year 12-13 and FY13-14.

Governor Brown made the first important step toward restoring public confidence in California’s state parks by signing AB 1478. The governor’s signature is a good sign faith on the part of California’s government that all the hard work of communities, organizations and donors across the state who stepped up to support their parks is recognized and appreciated. The governor also signed AB 1589 (Huffman), which requires DPR to develop a new action plan for increasing revenues in state parks, allows purchase of annual park passes on annual tax returns, and encourages an independent assessment of California’s state parks.

AB 1589 gives the state important tools for a future that is increasingly emphasizing the need for more self-generated revenue in our parks. While we do not believe that our state park system, a true public good, will ever be able to sustain itself without a core of dedicated, public funding, we do wholeheartedly agree that the movement toward more revenue generation should be done with a roadmap. The action plan required in AB 1589 requires such a roadmap and maintains the need for revenue ideas to be appropriate to the mission and uses of our state parks.

We look forward to working with the governor, Legislature and all Californians to implement provisions of AB 1478 and AB 1589 and to maintain and strengthen the legacy in our state parks.

More money, more problems

As we reported a few weeks ago, it was discovered and publicly disclosed that the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) had been hiding approximately $54 million in surplus funds for the past 12 years.  The parks community was shocked, surprised and angry to discover this news.  Why have we fought so hard against park closures and budget cuts when there was more money available to DPR?

Sonoma Coast State Beach. Photo by Mike Ryan.

Now that the dust has settled a little and audits are underway, it is clear to us the money that was “discovered” may or may not be used for its intended purpose: for the maintenance of our state parks.  It is up to the Legislature where that money should go, a decision they must make in the next 9 days before the legislative session ends for the year.

We are lobbying the Legislature to allocate the recently-identified $20.3 million in funding from the State Parks and Recreation Fund (SPRF) for use in state parks.  SPRF money comes from state park fees for day-use admission or parking, overnight camping or boating, and more.  We are concerned that the SPRF money is becoming a tempting target for budget raiding. After more than 14 months of tremendous work in communities around the state to keep our parks open, it would only add insult to injury for the Legislature to put those funds elsewhere or, even worse, claim to put them into state parks but simply reduce the park system’s General Fund allocation at the same time.

That said, we are asking for help in urging legislators to maintain access and support for California’s state parks by directing the recently-identified and unspent state park funds back into the state park system. Please join more than 3,000 park advocates who have already take action and use our online system to send a message to your legislators and the governor urging them to allocate these funds back into our state park system.

Your action is extremely important, as policymakers are expected to make a decision in the next week about how to allocate this funding.

Park Partner Workshops Wrap Up

Today was the last of the Partnership Guidance Workshops that California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) scheduled back in early February. The workshops were meant to present a “How To” explanation and pathway for all parties interested in forming partnerships for operating a state park.

Some CSPF folks were able to attend the workshops and they seemed to be very helpful and informative. DPR has really created a careful road map for what it is looking for in its new park partners. In addition, DPR has organized the inevitable complexities of operating parks into a clear, manageable form.

If you are working on a partnership proposal for DPR, and haven’t been able to get to a workshop, take a look at the workbook and the FAQs available on DPR’s website.

Did you or someone from your organization attend a workshop? What did you think?