California’s State Parks under Attack

Last week, conservationists in California lost two of their strongest allies for our state parks. Gov. Schwarzenegger removed Clint Eastwood and Bobby Shriver from their leadership posts on the California State Park and Recreation Commission after their vocal and effective opposition to a proposal to use the state park at San Onofre as right-of-way for a massive toll road – a proposal supported by the Governor.  It is pretty easy to read these dismissals as a warning shot by the Governor to all his appointees who have refused to support that terrible project. 

The proposed toll road would pave a six-lane highway through the park from top to bottom, requiring, according to California State Parks, that up to 60 percent of the park be closed.  This isn’t really a road through a state park; it’s a road instead of a state park.  And it wouldn’t even solve the traffic problem it is designed to address. The Governor claims “the road has to go somewhere” and this is “progress,” but the truth is, this isn’t progress, and it doesn’t have to go through a state park, and that’s precisely what Shriver and Eastwood said.   

The toll road project has been rejected overwhelmingly by the California Coastal Commission as illegal, but the road builders have appealed that rejection to the Bush Administration and asked that it be overturned.  We’re fighting that appeal and are committed, whichever way it comes out, to continue doing whatever is necessary to defeat this toll road and save San Onofre.  This is necessary not only to prevent the devastation of a state park visited by 2.5 million visitors each year, but because its destruction would create a terrible precedent state-wide, at a time when our parks system is under attack by budget cuts, park closures, and no less than 113 proposals for development across 73 of our state parks.  If this road can be built through San Onofre, similar projects are inevitable in state parks all across California. 

Under Schwarzenegger’s administration, California has become the proving ground for the clean energy economy. He’s been willing to go to bat against the EPA to win California’s right to enact the strictest emission standards across the country, setting the bar for 17 other states to follow. Many of his state initiatives serve as models for other states when it comes to renewable energy use and pollution reduction. As a native Californian, I’m proud of that progress, but that doesn’t give him a free pass to run highways through our cherished parks.  

Unfortunately, we can’t get Shriver or Eastwood their well deserved jobs back as chair and vice chair of the parks commission, respectively. Instead, we’re trying to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. We’ve asked the state senate to hold oversight hearings concerning the range of threats to our state park system, including the dismissal of Shriver and Eastwood.

Schwarzenegger’s environmental record will speak for itself when his term has ended, but in the meantime, we need to ensure our state parks still have a voice to be heard.