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Public Private 
Partnerships

"Broadway Under the Stars" in Jack London State Historic Park (photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune).

"Broadway Under the Stars" in Jack London State Historic Park (photos by Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune).

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It would be wise, if not likely, that before too long  management consultants will begin advising government agencies on the benefits and strategies for creating public/private partnerships to manage public programs and resources.

Wise, because entrepreneurial vision and energy is needed in countless, federal, state and local government enterprises that are too often bogged down in bureaucratic inertia and lacking in entrepreneurial imagination. Not necessarily likely, because managers of tax-funded programs are often protective of the habits, patterns and cultures within which they operate and view private intrusion into public programs as akin to an attack by invasive species.

Sometimes, those fears may be warranted. We are skeptical, for instance, about the performance, values and end results of many private prison programs, and we think that privatizing public trust resources like water, forests and rangeland can be – and sometimes has been – exploitative and contrary to public interest.

But public/private partnerships don’t have to involve privatization to get the benefit of private enterprise, especially when the private partners are nonprofits.

On a macro scale, one of the most effective, impactful and enterprising models for such partnerships has been Mercy Corps International, a nonprofit NGO that works globally to not just provide relief to victims of war, famine and natural disaster, but to create development programs with local governments and agencies that help bootstrap small businesses so local entrepreneurs can thrive.

Much closer to home, we have the inspiring example of California State Parks and the Valley of the Moon Natural History Association (VMNHA) which have been collaborating for a year-and-a-half in management of Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.

As we reported in some detail on Tuesday, Jack London State Historic Park, which was slated for closure in 2012 in the shadow of the $22 million budget hole State Parks had dug for itself, has seen a remarkable renaissance. A $163,000 deficit has been eliminated, 2013 revenue was expected to approach $500,000, trails were restored and re-opened, attendance increased dramatically and 50,000 to 60,000 visitors arrived who had never been there before.

And the icing on the cake was the spectacular success of the Transcendence Theatre Company’s “Broadway Under the Stars” concerts in the park’s old winery ruins, that attracted more than 20,000 fans and generated some $60,000 in donations for the park

These successes required the participation of both partners. VMNHA needed State Parks expertise and professional skills to manage the physical resource, and State Parks needed the entrepreneurial vision and acumen, along with the extraordinary range of volunteer support generated by VMNHA.

The road wasn’t always smooth and mistakes were made by both parties as the relationship unfolded, but the end result has been recognized as a model that can and should be replicated in several other state parks.

We hope both partners can build on their initial success as the relationship matures. We think it’s a winning model and that it should eventually be enshrined in a permanent operating agreement.