May 21, 2012 - SACRAMENTO - In a strong showing of bipartisan strength, today members of the State Assembly from both sides of the aisle stood together in support of major legislation jointly authored by Democrats and Republicans that would help rescue California state parks from financial paralysis and prevent park closures.
AB 1589, the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, is jointly authored by Assemblymembers Jared Huffman, Kevin Jeffries, Wesley Chesbro, Roger Dickinson and Mike Gatto, and coauthored by Assemblymembers Kristin Olsen, Diane Harkey and 10 other Democratic and Republican members.
Authors and coauthors from both parties gathered on the Capitol grounds for a news conference, which also featured the great-great grandson of John Muir, to promote the legislation and talk about the importance of state parks to California.
"I'm proud to be joined by my colleagues from both parties in this effort to preserve our state parks," said Huffman, D-San Rafael. "The bill we're supporting gives the state additional tools it needs to help keep state parks open and provide for more sustainable management of parks in the future."
Building on last year's efforts, AB 1589 proposes both long and short-term strategies for keeping open many of the state parks slated for closure as a result of funding reductions to the Department of Parks and Recreation.
"This proposal is an important and logical next-step in creating a steady funding source for California's state parks that is less reliant on unpredictable state revenue," said Jeffries, R-Lake Elsinore. "Particularly in my own district, I'm proud that through community support, we are on the verge of keeping Palomar Mountain State Park off the closure list. With this bill, we'll hopefully pave a path to keep other parks across California open as well."
AB 1589 calls on the Department of Parks & Recreation to develop a prioritized action plan to increase revenues and collection of unpaid user fees at state parks, while maintaining the character and values of the state park system. It also creates a State Park Enterprise Fund and states legislative intent regarding the need for a multi-disciplinary independent assessment of ways to ensure long-term management and sustainable funding options for state parks.
Additionally, it includes provisions that authorize the Department of Motor Vehicles to offer special fee-based state park license plates to support the park system and allow taxpayers to redirect portions of their tax refunds to the California State Parks Protection Fund in exchange for an annual state park day-use access pass.
"The recent park closures disproportionately impact rural California, and nowhere is that more true than on the North Coast," said Chesbro, D-Arcata. "The economies of many of our small communities depend on state parks and the millions of visitors they draw every year. We must find a way to keep them open, safe and accessible. This legislation creates lasting security for the California State Parks system and saves the state money in the long-term."
AB 1589 also revises the factors the Department of Parks and Recreation considers when selecting state parks for future closure, requiring the Department to publicly disclose its methodology and rationale when evaluating them, and requires that park closures be considered only as a last resort after other options, including public/private partnerships, have been explored.
"I am thrilled to see my colleagues in the Assembly engaging in bipartisan problem-solving to preserve the state parks within my district and the rest of the state," said co-author Assemblymember Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto. "We have already been able to take one park in my district off the closure list, and we will continue fighting to prevent the closure of the historic parks of Railtown 1897 State Park in Sonora and the Mariposa Mining and Mineral Museum. Parks are vital to the economies of the local communities they serve and closure would be a blow to their already fragile state."
Legislators were joined at the press conference by Robert Hanna, a direct descendant of renowned naturalist John Muir, who emphasized the cultural and economic significance of California's state parks.
"In every great accomplishment you'll find togetherness, and I'm proud to stand in solidarity with California's elected officials to fight for our parks. I'll forever continue my family's commitment to protect these treasures and will continue to fight the good fight," said Hanna.
Since the Department of Parks and Recreation's closure list was announced in May 2011, Hanna has worked successfully to remove state parks from the list as well as traveled the state to help many cities and organizations craft proposals to keep their local parks open.
AB 1589 received unanimous support in both Assembly policy committees that reviewed the bill. It will be heard in the Appropriations Committee this week and will be taken up on the Assembly Floor after Memorial Day.