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State park advocates hit capitol halls

by on March 19, 2012

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma is one of 70 parks on the state's initial closure list.Photo courtesy of California Department of Parks and Recreation. 

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park in Sonoma is one of 70 parks on the state's initial closure list.

Photo courtesy of California Department of Parks and Recreation. 

California state parks advocates are hitting the halls of the Capitol on Tuesday to remind lawmakers that they won’t go away, even though many parks are closing come July. 

There is no savior bill for state parks on the horizon, not in a year when tax hikes and state budget deficits are on the table. Still, the conversation about the future of California’s 279 park system must continue, said Jerry Emory, spokesperson for the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF). 
“The whole idea of lobbying and advocacy is to keep the noise level up and have the opportunity to educate where possible and lay the framework to go back to these people in the future,” Emory said. 
 At this year’s 10th annual Park Advocacy Day, CSPF is arranging for 180 people to visit lawmakers in their offices to talk about finding long-term, sustainable funding for the parks system. Last year, state officials announced a list of 70 park closures — about 25 percent of California’s park system– to shave $20 million off the state budget. 
 In 2010, voters turned down Prop 21, a ballot initiative that would have raised money for the 148-year-old state park system with an annual $18 increase in vehicle license fees. Since then, no major revenue sources have surfaced and advocates have focused mainly on a patchwork effort to keep individual parks open in the state’s absence. There are several bills pending on parks funding, but Emory said CSPF advocates will not be making a hard sell on any of them. 
 “It’s in the millions of dollars, but not the tens of millions,” he said. “It’s nothing to shake a stick at but on the other hand it’s not a game-changer.”
 Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, introduced the most expansive one last week, AB- 1589. Among other aspects of the bill, it includes a new license plate for state parks with fees generated going towards the parks system, and a check-off on state tax forms to purchase annual state parks access passes. It also creates a State Park Enterprise Fund with $25 million in seed money to finance entrepreneurial activities and fee collection, and caps the number of state park closures to 25 over the next four years. That bill is scheduled for its first committee hearing on Tuesday. 
Two other bills, introduced by Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, attempt to recover oil and gas drilling revenues with the money directed towards the park system, and allocates  $2.5 million to the Department of Parks and Recreation to study ways to generate funding for the park system and implement ideas.
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