Recently, a handful of state lawmakers introduced a bill to address pending park closures on several fronts. AB 1589 would earmark $25 million dollars worth of bonds to upgrade facilities, and create a special license plate like the ones that fund other environmental causes in California. But the measure also serves as a kind of vision statement. One of the bill's co-authors is Assemblyman Jared Huffman. He says he feels California needs to reaffirm its committment to the state park system if it wants other people to step forward and donate. The conversation has been edited for clarity and style.
JARED HUFFMAN: We've talked to lots of folks in philanthropy and the private sector who are very interested in helping to be part of the solution, but they're not interested in just back filling the state's general fund deficit. And by declaring that state policy of a minimum level of state funding, we help and encourage those partnerships.
RACHAEL MYROW: The bill directs the Parks Department to find efficiencies. Isn't it already running on scotch tape and a prayer?
"Parks closures are a last resort. You don't get to go there until you have explored all of these other alternatives that ought to be able to solve our problems."
HUFFMAN: It is, and yet, there are things that can be done better and smarter. Parks are incredible assets. People want to visit them. Many of those visitors want to actually pay, to support the parks. And yet, in many cases, if you went to a state park and wanted to pay, you couldn't anyone to take your money. So that's the classic example of where a little bit of an investment in helping the park sustain itself is going to go a long way.
MYROW: AB 1589 calls for the Parks Department to revise the factors it's used to draw up a list of 70 parks to close. What revisions would you want to see?
HUFFMAN: Well, the process was by no means transparent. There was not a public process. It was a closed-door situation. There were no notes kept. There's no data to help us select the parks that were selected for closure versus ones that were spared. And we know for a fact that many critical factors that should have been part of that decision were not even considered, such as the effect on local communities and regions. To the extent that the Parks Department even wants to consider park closures, parks closures are a last resort, you don't get to go there until you have explored all of these other alternatives that ought to be able to solve our problems. If the Department feels like they absolutely have to close parks, they've got to do it in a far more transparent and objective way.
MYROW: Jared Huffman represents Sonoma and Marin counties in the state assembly. He also chairs that body's Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee.