A plan to save a park
Thanks to the ideological gridlock that has seized Sacramento like a tetanus pandemic, a handful of lockjawed legislators have consigned California to a downward death spiral that threatens to destroy, among other things, our schools and some of our most cherished state parks.
There’s not much we as individuals can do to rescue California from its descent into educational mediocrity – save willingly support modest tax increases that could easily close the revenue gap – but there is something we can do for our parks – help run them.
Before examining how that can be done, let’s stop long enough to review the fiscal absurdity that inspired the Legislature to plan the closure of 70 of the state’s 279 parks.
The most recent economic data available was prepared in a comprehensive study, commissioned by State Parks and released in 2002, showing the impact of those parks on the California economy.
According to that study, the state’s park system had 85.2 million visitors in fiscal year 2001-02, generating $2.6 billion in visitor spending in local communities, which translated into $6.65 billion in total output and new sales.
For every dollar spent on California State Parks, the study concluded, a conservative estimate was that $2.35 was returned to the state’s general fund. In entrepreneurial terms, that’s a pretty impressive return on investment, and the money spent by state park visitors supported more than 100,000 jobs.
Why, sane people might ask, would anyone want to cripple that multi-billion dollar revenue machine just to save the general fund $22 million? That’s a little like saying the airplane is using too much fuel so let’s get rid of an engine.
Which leads us back to what we can do, as a community, to rescue our parks from legislative folly. As we have reported in the recent past, a well-organized effort led by Valley of the Moon Natural History Association (VMNHA) is proposing to take over management of Jack London State Historic Park, should the state proceed with plans to shutter the facility next July. (For more details, see the story on the news page).
Thanks to legislation authored by 6th District Assemblymember Jared Huffman, and signed into law by Gov. Brown, the state can now enter into operating agreements with nonprofit organizations to take over park management. This week, VMNHA submitted a 54-page proposal to manage the park, with a projected savings to the state of $500,000. The plan calls for keeping the park open five days a week, Thursday through Monday, with a largely volunteer staff. California State Parks would be required to provide security and fire alarm services, while VMNHA would rely on 9-1-1 services for medical emergencies.
Covering the nearly $163,000 annual operating deficit would be achieved through aggressive marketing of special events, weddings, Wine Country excursions, tours and other organized activities, which the somewhat hidebound State Parks bureaucracy has been largely incapable of pursuing.
We think this is a highly promising initiative and a model for other park-loving communities across the state. We hope it wins speedy approval.