Huge Step Forward for Land and Water Conservation Fund

Wilder Ranch by Stanislav Sedov via Flickr.jpg

Wilder Ranch State Park in Santa Cruz. Photo by Stanislav Sedov via Flickr

Great news today for the protection of our open spaces.

Yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a permanent authorization for the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF), after the previous one expired last fall. This is a huge step forward. In fact, on the way to passage, a damaging amendment was voted down summarily. The House has already passed a bill and the two bills will be taken up in conference committee and reconciled.

The battle to get reauthorization of Land and Water Conservation has been hard fought over the last year. And the fight to ensure that adequate funding moved into LWCF has been going on for much longer. CSPF has participated in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Coalition, a very large coalition effort to speak up on behalf of full funding and more recently the reauthorization, helping as need be, with the California delegation. You may remember we collected letters from Californians in late 2015 for this purpose.

The LWCF is the single largest federal source of funding for conservation in the United States. It is funded from off-shore oil and gas royalties, and was intended to fund $900 million in conservation projects annually. Although it has rarely hit that mark of funding, it has done enormous good anyway with thousands of projects funded here in California, in state parks, in particular, but all of the parks systems the state hosts.

The steps ahead are not certain but this is such an important milestone that we wanted to share the good news.

You can read today’s press release from the Coalition here: LWCF Coalition Statement – Senate Energy Bill Final.

Let’s keep up the good work!

 

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Park Advocacy Day: A View From the Trenches

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.

My 2012 Park Advocacy Day Team: George Loyer, Kirsten Schulz, Avery Dinauer, M.J. Wickham, and myself.

My 2012 Park Advocacy Day Team: George Loyer, Kirsten Schulz, Avery Dinauer, M.J. Wickham, and myself.

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.

I had the chance to meet with Senator Mark Leno at Park Advocacy Day in 2011.

I had the chance to meet with Senator Mark Leno at Park Advocacy Day in 2011.

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.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman speaks to 2010 Park Advocacy Day attendees on the steps of the Capitol.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman speaks to 2010 Park Advocacy Day attendees on the steps of the Capitol.

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.

The State Capitol building is one of California's 280 state parks.

The State Capitol building is one of California’s 280 state parks.

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.

Updates from Sacramento

The long road to stopping park closures. Photo by Michael Keel @ Mt. Tam

With the park closure deadline quickly approaching (July 1 for those of you who forgot), there is plenty of attention being paid to state parks in our Capitol.  Our legislators are looking for ways to find extra funding for parks, and some things are moving along successfully. Here’s a recap of recent action for easy tracking:

Budget
In late May the Legislature largely agreed on a funding proposal to help keep our state parks open. Dubbed the “Ongoing Sustainable Parks Proposal,” this plan includes some temporary transfers of funding from other programs to state parks and a direction for more innovation and efficiencies in parks management. This will now be part of ongoing budget deliberations.

Legislation
Assembly Bill (AB) 1589 (Huffman) passed 78-0 out of the Assembly and will now be heard in the Senate. AB 1589 is an omnibus state parks bill that establishes a variety of mechanisms to move state parks toward sustainability. Senate Bill 974 and Senate Bill 1078 (Evans) were also passed out of the Senate and will be heard in the Assembly.

Stayed tuned for more updates as this legislation (hopefully) moves along!