June 14, 2012
Solutions for Keeping YOUR State Parks Open
Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (Stewards) is taking a multi-prong solution-based approach to keeping our parks open in western Sonoma County. With Austin Creek State Recreation Area on the closure list and numerous service reductions at Sonoma Coast State Park, Stewards convened two meetings with State Park staff in early June to engage the public in a discussion of how we can work together to keep our State Parks open and accessible.
There has been public outcry regarding new parking fees at Sonoma Coast State Park locations. To set the record straight, Stewards is not taking a position on the new fees. Stewards’ constituents are split on this issue. We have supporters who are vehemently opposed, and others who think it’s time Sonoma County implements fees that have been in place for years in other coastal areas of the state including our own Regional Parks. Those in opposition are concerned about limiting access for those in need, traffic issues and paying $8 for a short visit. Others see that fees paid by over 2 million out-of-town visitors could increase support and prevent further decline.
Stewards is focusing on giving the public an opportunity to receive factual
information, have a voice and work on solutions for keeping our parks open,
which we believe will require attacking the issue from many angles.
Stewards is very close to signing an operating agreement with State Parks to keep Austin Creek open, an option made possible by AB42 (Huffman). With the support of a $56,000 grant awarded by the California State Parks Foundation, Stewards will have the start-up funds needed to reopen Bull Frog Campground and manage volunteer programs to provide public assistance and trail maintenance. Stewards will utilize camping and day-use fees, donations, new partnerships and programs to keep Austin Creek open and moving towards becoming a new model for the future.
The solutions for reopening closed areas on Sonoma Coast are much more complex and the actions being implemented by State Parks in the Russian River District started some years ago. State Parks was directed to charge new fees and Sonoma Coast was even used as an example by the Schwarzenegger administration. In 2009, the District started implementing service reductions. We were all hopeful that Proposition 21, the $18 vehicle license fee, would pass in 2010. When the measure failed, State Parks was faced with further budget reductions. In 2011, the state legislature approved another $11 million cut for State Parks and now in 2012 the budget includes a $22 million permanent general fund cut.
Since 1979, the State Park budget has decreased by 67%, with 37% of that reduction in the past six years. These cuts have come during a time when park visitation is at an all-time high. Parks are one of the affordable places that people can go during tough economic times.
An issue that some people seem to be confused about is the Governor’s tax measure, which will appear on the November 2012 ballot. The tax measure will NOT restore any funding for State Parks. In fact, if it does not pass, there will be further budget reduction triggers for State Parks. Those reductions include funding cuts for lifeguards and a 20% reduction in rangers.
Few would disagree that State Parks needs a dedicated sustainable funding source in order to keep all 279 parks open and address the $1.3 billion deferred maintenance backlog.
What are the solutions? Some of our legislators are proposing new budget amendments (Evans/Simitian). Legislation is being proposed to help State Parks and their partners, like Stewards, who are stepping up to keep our local parks open (Evans and Huffman). Their help is very much appreciated but it’s not enough.
The California State Parks Foundation has also submitted protections for nonprofit organizations in the current budget and continues to provide ways for Californians to advocate for their parks. Communities and business leaders around the State are coming together to keep their parks open. In Sonoma County, the Parks Alliance for Sonoma County convened a group of over 20 agencies and organizations, who are working hard to keep their five local State Parks on the closure list open for at least another year. The local community of Jenner has been donating to keep the Jenner Visitor Center and restrooms open since 2009.
If new fees are implemented, Stewards feels strongly that those fees need to stay local. Stewards also wants to be sure people are aware that they can earn free day-use passes for Russian River area State Parks by volunteering a minimum of 16 hours a year in one of the Volunteers in Parks programs supported by Stewards. 200 hours provides a statewide pass. There are also affordable State Park passes for Californians who are low-income, disabled, seniors and veterans of war. For instance, any person 62 years of age or older with income limitations specified on the application form; or any person receiving aid under the applicable aid codes in the CalWORKS Program is eligible to receive the Golden Bear Pass for only $5.00 a year. Stewards will be working with State Parks to implement an affordable pass for State Parks within Sonoma County.
If Sonoma County residents want to prevent new parking fees on Sonoma Coast we need to work together on many fronts to come up with solutions. Funding is needed, new partnerships are needed, volunteers are needed and advocacy is needed.
ACTION: Join Stewards’ new advisory committee, Friends of Sonoma Coast so we can together represent the concerns of the environmental, fishing, surfing and hiking communities, business owners and residents in fighting to keep our parks open, thriving and moving towards excellence. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call (707) 869-9177 to be added to the list. A meeting will be set within the next month to get to work on solutions for keeping your state parks open and accessible.