Gov signs state parks bill
Opens the door for nonprofit management
Jack London on horseback at his home property, which is now Jack London State Historic park.
By signing AB 42 on Tuesday afternoon Gov. Jerry Brown created an official pathway for “qualified nonprofits” to take over managing the 70 state parks slated to close by July 1, 2012.
That list includes Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen. Even before the bill became a law, the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association was already developing a proposal to run the park and museum dedicated to the Valley’s most famous writer.
“We are extremely relieved that AB42 was signed,” said Elisa Stancil, vice president of the association, who with her board has spent countless hours developing a workable business plan for the park.
AB42 was introduced by Assemblymember Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, last December in an effort to find a way to keep as many of California’s 278 state parks open as possible. In the midst of the state’s ongoing fiscal woes, the State Department of Parks and Recreation, which oversee the state parks, experienced numerous budget cuts, including $22 million over the current and next fiscal years, sparking the park closures.
“The Governor has recognized the important role that state parks play for Californians, and my bill represents a creative solution that will allow the state to secure partnerships to enable a number of the state parks on the closure list to stay open,” said Huffman in a press release. “Particularly in these tough economic times, creative public/private partnerships are an essential tool in providing ongoing protection of, and continued access to, these treasured public assets. As we struggle to address California’s state budget deficit, I will continue to work to protect funding for state parks.”
Stancil said her organization was in the final stages of completing the proposal they will send to the State Department of Parks and Recreation for approval. She said the business plan would have the park financially sustainable within three years, but declined to go into the specifics of the proposal because it has not been approved by the association’s board yet.
“I don’t want to give you the details yet because it hasn’t been approved,” she said.
She did say the park plans to capitalize on tourism, as the park draws about 70,000 visitors every year. During an informal poll Stancil conducted over Labor Day weekend, she learned that 24 percent of visitors came from outside California and 22 percent were from outside the United States.
“Those are big tourism dollars,” she said.
Stancil said the association plans to partner with various hotels in the area to lead activities and tours that provide unique access to the park. “Once we start these partnerships with some of these resorts … that kind of increased venue use is going to make a huge difference in our ability to operate the parks,” she said.
Stancil said the association will also seek to rent the venue out for private events such as weddings. Furthermore, they hope to partner with groups interested in using the space in an ongoing manner, such as the Transcendence Theatre Company, which held a fundraising concert there Oct. 1 and hopes to stage a summer theater season next year in the historic winery ruins.
“We’re encouraging special contracts with people who want to do events and programs at the park,” Stancil said.
But before anything else, the association must get the state’s approval to manage the park. The bill requires the association to sign an operating agreement with the Department of Parks and Recreation promising to protect and maintain the park, as well, and the Department of Parks and Recreation would be required to check in with the legislature on a biennial basis on the status of those agreements.
“These are difficult times ahead for all Californians who support, visit and appreciate their state parks, and AB 42 is a creative option to try to lessen the blow from park closures. California State Parks Foundation will continue to work with nonprofit groups across the states that are stepping forward to help protect our parks, and the passage of AB 42 will encourage additional groups to step up to save our state parks,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.
The Valley of the Moon Natural History Association is collecting donations to help cover the operation and maintenance at Jack London State Historic Park. To donate, or learn more about the effort, visit www.savejacklondon.com.