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Opinion: California state parks are crumbling; how can we help?

Opinion: California state parks are crumbling; how can we help?

Sempervirens Falls at Big Basin is a picture-postcard of a waterfall, and
easily accessed from the state park’s parking lot. In a season whose record
rainfalls damaged trails, roads and bridges, accessibility is a huge plus.
The loop trail to three other iconic Big Basin waterfalls is impassable for
the time being. (Courtesy of Dino Vournas)

By Sara Barth, Executive Director, Sempervirens Fund

Insufficient and unpredictable annual operating funds have left California’s iconic and world-renowned state park system with a $1 billion backlog in deferred maintenance needs. That is why we at Sempervirens Fund are heartened by a deal reached Monday between the state legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown’s office to place a $4 billion park and water bond on the 2018 ballot.

It’s been 15 years since the voters approved the last major investment in parks. At an Aug. 30 rally at the State Capitol, Sempervirens Fund board member and former Assembly Member Fred Keeley told the nearly 200 gathered, “You cannot pass a park bond every half generation and expect to keep up with the needs of California and its residents.”

It’s time for another infusion of funding into our green infrastructure.

All told, Senate Bill 5 includes roughly $250 million to address the restoration, preservation and protection of existing state park facilities and to promote greater access, especially to disadvantaged communities. In addition, the funds would be used to increase climate resilience, as well as improve water supplies and water quality in our state parks.

In addition to the development and enhancement of state and local parks and recreational facilities, Senate Bill 5 – or “The California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access For All Act of 2018” – is also designed to address numerous water, drought and climate change-related issues facing California.

For the benefit of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the adjacent coastline, Sempervirens Fund has urged investment in the California Coastal Conservancy and a fund to support protection and restoration of redwood forests for the sake of sequestering carbon, building climate resiliency, improving air and water quality and providing vital habitat.

The legislature has to send Senate Bill 5 to the governor’s desk by Friday, which is the legislative session deadline. The time is now. Our state parks lack the resources necessary to ensure public safety and to properly steward their natural and historic treasures.

After this winter’s storms in the Santa Cruz Mountains, it took private organizations like Sempervirens Fund to provide the funds needed to clear trails in Big Basin Redwoods State Park.

Recognizing that modern facilities were needed to accommodate the growing visitor base at Castle Rock State Park, Sempervirens Fund bought 33 acres of private property and began building a new entrance for the park because we knew the agency could not afford it.

We have been proud boosters of the California state park system since we bought land more than 100 years ago to create California’s first state parks. While we have every intention of supporting our state parks for the next century, these public/private partnerships work best when both sides invest.

Kudos to Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, Senate President pro Tempore Kevin de Leon and Assembly Member Eduardo Garcia for championing a park bond proposal; and Gov. Brown for supporting it. Assemblyman Mark Stone and Sen. Bill Monning have long been environmental champions and are expected to vote for a park bond.

We hope they will be joined by other San Francisco Bay Area legislators such as Sen. Steve Glazer and Assemblywoman Catharine Baker.

Join the chorus and use your “outside” voice to speak up loudly to urge the legislature to pass Senate Bill 5 and Gov. Brown to sign it.

Sara Barth joined the Sempervirens Fund in 2016 as executive director after 12 years in leadership positions at The Wilderness Society. She wrote this for Sept. 12, 2017 edition of The San Jose Mercury News.


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