With 70 state parks slated to close this summer due to budget cuts (see July-August 2011, front page), two legislators have introduced bills to lessen the closures’ impact and to install a transparent and public process if the state should need to close any parks in the future.
The closures were announced last summer, after the legislature passed the governor’s budget proposal to cut $22 million from the state-park budget. Testimony last year from Department of Parks and Recreation officials at a legislative hearing revealed an embarrassing lack of information and clarity as to how the department determined which of the state’s 278 parks to include on the closure list. Officials testified that the list was developed internally within the department without public hearings or public comment. The department didn’t even keep notes or records of its deliberations.
Assemblymember Jared Huffman has introduced AB 1589, the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012. The bill would:
- encourage the formation of a state compact guaranteeing an ongoing level of state funding for parks;
- create a fund for construction and installation of modern fee-collection equipment and technologies to increase park visitation and revenues;
- allow for the sale of a California State Park environmental license plate with revenues going to state parks;
- provide an option for taxpayers to purchase an annual state-park access pass when they file state tax returns;
- require the department to be more transparent on how it evaluates and selects specific parks for closure;
- place a cap of 25 state-park closures allowed from 2012 to 2016 without legislative approval.
Sen. Noreen Evans has introduced two bills on state-park issues. SB 974 would require the department to annually review any state park closures and to develop a transparent and public process for potential closures, taking into account the economic impacts on local communities, a determination of whether an analysis is needed under the California Environmental Quality Act, and the costs in deferred maintenance, liability, and security.
Evans’ other bill, SB 1078, would allocate $1 million to study ways to increase park revenues, plus $1.5 million to implement these new programs. Programs to be studied would include:
- affordable regional state-park passes, perhaps including county parks;
- park passes with coupons for recreational goods and services;
- a voluntary tax check-off option to purchase state-park passes.
Sierra Club California supports all three bills. Since they cover some of the same topics, we will work with Evans and Huffman on refining their proposals so that they don’t conflict and so that they reach the governor’s desk. We are also following the budget process in the legislature and advocating for sustainable state-park funding to prevent closures.
Jim Metropulos, senior advocate, Sierra Club California