New models to manage parks
If you read “Atlas Shrugged” in high school or college, as many of us did, wading through Ayn Rand’s turgid prose and soulless “objectivist” philosophy, you may wonder why so many conservative legislators and Tea Party activists today embrace Rand, despite her pro-choice atheism and methamphetamine addiction.
One answer is that her rejection of most activities of government – taxation, regulation, social welfare – align perfectly with the Tea Party agenda of less and less government. It’s an ironic confluence of interests given that California was battered by the consequences of less government a decade ago when deregulation of the state’s energy market in 1996 opened the door to Enron’s massive rate manipulations and cost state utilities (and ratepayers) billions of dollars.
Ironic, too, that the unregulated excesses of derivative trading and other Wall Street chicanery suggest that bankers cannot necessarily be trusted to govern the national economy. Laissez faire sometimes leads to legalized looting and a radically uneven playing field that funnels wealth to those with the most weight.
All that said, it may be that one outcome of the current refusal by a majority of Californians to pay for all the things they want an increasingly small government to do for them, is that we citizens will be forced to do some things for ourselves.
The options may be limited – private police and fire services, neighborhood road-paving crews, voluntary public health inspectors will probably never be practical, reliable or safe – but as March 2012 draws closer, it is becoming increasingly clear that a public-private-volunteer collaboration may be able to effectively run some of our state parks.
We reported earlier on the promising initiative taken by the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association to operate Jack London State Historic Park. Now we learn that, under the umbrella of the Parks Alliance of Sonoma County and the leadership of the Sonoma Ecology Center, a similar effort is moving forward to keep Sugarloaf Ridge State Park open.
That 4,000-acre gem is a resource of inestimable value to the Valley, the county and the state. Headwaters to Sonoma Creek, home to the Ferguson Observatory, and a critical corridor for a wide range of wildlife, Sugarloaf, like some financial institutions of late, is too important to close. And we continue to question the logic for doing so.
We are impressed by the wisdom and experience of State Parks Director Ruth Coleman and her deputy, Bill Herms. We know how dedicated the Parks Department professionals are to the lands in their keeping.
But we also suspect that the Sacramento bureaucracy has been unable to step far enough outside the government box to shape a vision of greater possibilities. With 65 million visitors last year, if State Parks had merely collected an additional 50 cents from each one the revenue would far exceed the $22 million the state intends to cut.
And with public-private partnerships blooming like Shasta daisies, it may be possible to construct new management models to keep all the parks open. Just don’t credit Ayn Rand.