A guest post BY MICHAEL HANRAHAN
Michael is a long-time park advocate and is a regular at CSPF’s Annual Park Advocacy.
This year marks my fourth time attending Park Advocacy Day, an annual event sponsored by the California State Parks Foundation. The all-day event brings concerned citizens and state park supporters from all over California to Sacramento. We spend much of the day walking the halls of the State Capitol building, meeting with legislators, and lobbying them to take a stand on legislation related to our state parks. It’s a great experience to become a lobbyist for a day, and to take part in grassroots political action on a very meaningful level.
The day starts out with an informal breakfast, during which time the teams of four to five people get to meet each other and look over the day’s assignments. Teams are organized by region of the state, and generally meet with legislators from their particular part of the state. There are some exceptions to this though, so flexibility is critical to getting the most out of Park Advocacy Day. My Bay Area team has usually met with Democratic legislators who are strong supporters of state parks, such as former Assemblyman Jared Huffman, Assemblyman Wes Chesbro, and Senators Mark Leno and Noreen Evans. Last year, we had the chance to meet with an aide to Assemblyman Donald Wagner, an Orange County Republican, who also expressed strong support for our state parks. This provided us with a great opportunity to see how issues related to state parks enjoy the support of people across the political spectrum.
A lot has changed since 2010, the first year I attended Park Advocacy Day. One of the big issues at the time was then-Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to link funding for state parks to approval of offshore oil drilling leases along the Santa Barbara Channel. The “oil for parks” proposal, which coincided with some of the early threats to close state parks, was ultimately shot down, mainly due to its absurdity.
By 2011, the budget cuts to state parks had reached crisis level, and much of the discussion at Park Advocacy Day was related to the impending and much dreaded park closure list, which was finally released about two months later. One of the most important pieces of legislation that year was AB 42, authored by Jared Huffman, which paved the way for nonprofit organizations to enter into Operating Agreements and Donor Agreements with DPR. We lobbied hard for this bill and were very gratified to see it passed unanimously by the Assembly, by a huge majority in the Senate, and signed by Governor Brown later that year.
In 2012, the fight to keep open the 70 parks on the closure list was in full swing. Park Advocacy Day was attended by many representatives of organizations associated with parks on the closure list. The sense of urgency was palpable, along with a determination to fight hard to prevent any park closures from taking place. One of my assigned meetings was with Assemblyman Jared Huffman, whose AB 42 was already being put into practice by a number of organizations. The large group meeting, which included three other teams, was more like a pep rally than a lobbying meeting.
One of the best parts of Park Advocacy Day is walking around the State Capitol building. With its neoclassical architecture featuring a central rotunda topped by an expansive dome, the building takes its inspiration from the ancient Greeks, as well as the design of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C. It is a style that has come to represent the home of democracy, a place where the people have a voice in their government. The State Capitol in Sacramento has an especially strong significance to park advocates, because the building itself is one of California’s 280 state parks. Its portrait-lined hallways and intricately carved staircases serve the purpose of wilderness trails and pathways that lead us to our assigned destinations.
For people who love and cherish our state parks, Park Advocacy Day is an important day to make our voices heard, at a time when parks throughout the state are facing threats from budget cuts, nearby development, vandalism, and neglect. Frederick Law Olmsted, the renowned landscape architect who authored the Preliminary Report that created the California state parks system in 1864, wrote about the importance of protecting the great scenic wonders of our state:
“It is the will of the nation as embodied in the act of Congress that this scenery shall never be private property, but that like certain defensive points upon our coast it shall be solely for public purposes.”
This year, Park Advocacy Day offers park supporters a chance to savor the victories of the past year with a sense of cautious optimism. State parks still face formidable obstacles, including a backlog of deferred maintenance that exceeds $1 billion. But the morning light after a long dark night seems to be emerging now, like the winter sun rising above the distant horizon. It’s a view that can be cherished from many of our state parks.