Chino Hills State Park, Chino Hills, California. (Photo credit: NRDC)
On Tuesday, supporters of California’s state parks descended on Sacramento to lobby for increased park protections as part of Park Advocacy Day, an annual event organized by the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF). California’s state parks are world-renowned for their majestic landscapes and as economic engines for local communities (to the tune of $4.3 billion annually), and for the past nine years advocates have rallied on Park Advocacy Day to press legislators and policymakers on a variety of critical issues facing this exceptional park system.
The issue dominating Sacramento at the moment, however, is California’s protracted budget crisis, and for state parks the massive deficit means the very real prospect of park closures on an unprecedented scale. Park advocates like CSPF and NRDC are trying to keep as many parks open as possible by backing bills like SB 580, which would create strong protections for state parks and advance a principle of “no net loss” of state park lands, and AB 42, which would allow nonprofit organizations to run state park units.
But these bills alone won’t solve the budget issues or prevent at least some park closures. The legislature’s passage of last week’s spending plan guarantees, unfortunately, that at least some parks will close. What’s more, the spending plan only resolved a little over half of California’s $26.6 billion deficit, so legislators still need to come up with $12 billion or risk having to make even more painful cuts.
Governor Brown has put forth a sensible plan to generate that $12 billion by extending a slate of existing taxes through 2015, but legislators have to vote to put the proposal on the June ballot. If they don’t, our state leaders may need to close all of the state parks, in addition to reducing public transit service and imposing devastating funding cuts on schools, universities and health care. For state parks, this would be an even worse outcome than former Governor Schwarzenegger’s failed nuclear option from two years ago.
We need our leaders in Sacramento to do the right thing for state parks and vote to put a sensible, balanced solution to our budget problems on the ballot immediately. If you live in California and care about keeping our state parks open, click here to urge your legislators to let the people decide.