My Turn: California’s state parks system in peril
February 23, 2010
The most recent “solution” in Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2010 budget ties California state parks funding to proceeds from offshore oil drilling, a tradeoff that the California State Parks Foundation finds unacceptable and a proposal we absolutely do not endorse.
This year, rather than proposing deep, painful cuts as he has for the last two years – only to have them rejected by popular outcry – the governor has tried a different game of political “chicken.” His latest budget proposes to eliminate all general fund support for state parks and replace it with uncertain funding from a highly controversial oil-drilling project that has been rejected twice. The administration proposes to cut $140 million allocated to state parks and offset it with future revenues from oil drilling off the Santa Barbara coast. So, the “fortune” of California’s state parks would be inextricably linked to an oil drilling proposal that already failed to get approval – not once, but twice in 2009.
Threatened cuts to state parks funding are nothing new. In fact, the annual threat of park closures during the past three years has shown that long-term, stable funding is needed to protect California’s state park system. What are not needed are desperate yearly budget shenanigans that threaten our state parks for minimal budget savings.
Californians of all political stripes are frustrated that their state park system is constantly being held hostage in the state’s dysfunctional budget process. Nine months ago, due to another gubernatorial budget proposal to eliminate half of state parks’ general fund in 2009, then take the remaining half in 2010, California faced the likely closure of more than 80 percent of the entire parks system. Full closures were avoided only because parks users mobilized last summer under CSPF’s Save Our State Parks Campaign to advocate for their treasured parks.
Statewide, park advocates flooded their elected officials with more than 156,000 letters to legislators and the governor opposing the closures. At the kickoff to the summer season in June, and again as summer wound down on Labor Day weekend, park supporters turned out en masse in the parks to demonstrate, rally, and call for saving their state parks. An estimated 5,000 people visited 140 state parks and submitted more than 1,000 photos and videos during the Weekends of Action for state parks. In short, Californians reinforced that state parks are their priorities and when made aware of painful cuts for minimal budget savings, they voiced opposition – loudly and forcefully.
State parks were saved last year with last-minute budget reprieves that found one-time loans and monies to put a Band-Aid on the proposed cut. In the end, while wholesale closures were avoided, nearly 150 of California’s 278 state parks were shut down part time or suffered deep service reductions. Continued budget cuts year-after-year are slowly starving state parks to the tune of $1 billion … causing them to fall severely behind in badly needed upkeep, maintenance and repairs.
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This year’s budget “hail Mary” again highlights the need for a real, lasting state parks funding solution. CSPF has worked tirelessly to find a long-term sustainable funding mechanism for state parks.
We are a lead supporter of the California State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010, which is in circulation to qualify for the November 2010 ballot. This funding, when approved by the voters, will provide a stable, reliable and adequate funding source for our state park system, for wildlife conservation and for increased and equitable access to those resources for all Californians, removing the threat of park closures once and for all.
What is needed is a lasting, long-term solution – and the California State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund Act of 2010 is that solution.
Elizabeth Goldstein is executive director of the California State Parks Foundation based in San Francisco and Sacramento.