Guest Column

Park It!  Add Transparency to the Process

By Senator Tom Harman

Senator Tom Harmon

In The Yosemite (1912) John Muir wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.”

California is unique in its abundance of natural resources, many of which are protected in our state parks. Home to spectacular coasts, mountains, forests and historical sights, our parks are dotted throughout the state — in communities rich and poor, urban and rural alike.

California’s constant state of fiscal disarray threatens the ability of regular citizens to enjoy our parks system.  Always first on the chopping block when there is a budget shortfall, our parks have unfortunately become pawns in a political game in Sacramento.

In January, the governor announced several parks would be closed as a way to reduce the deficit.  The list was to be published in February.  However, the list of 70 parks slated for closure was not released until May, just three days before the governor released the May Revision of the budget.  It appeared that the administration was using the threat of park closures to underscore the state’s financial problems.

Assemblyman Jim Nielsen and I sent a letter to the California Department of Parks Director Ruth Coleman regarding the department’s efforts to explore every option to keep parks open.  Her response to our letter made me think that perhaps the department should be more open and transparent when it addressed the issue of park closures.

As a result, I introduced Senate Bill 386 (SB 386), a measure that would provide a pathway for the Department of Parks and Recreation to seek outside funding sources as an alternative to closing state parks.  As it stands now, there is a shroud of darkness over the details on both park closure and opportunities to manage our parks.

Senate Bill 386 would require the Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) to post a 30-day notice of a park slated for closure on the department’s website.  It would also require DPR to provide the approximate date of closure, information on how to contact the department in writing if interested in negotiating for a contract to lease, operate, maintain or provide concessions at that park. DPR also would be required to respond in writing to any inquiries received.

SB 386 adds some much needed transparency to the bureaucratic process.  The goal is to clear a path for partnerships with non-profit, private or local entities so we can ultimately keep more parks open.

I am not alone in trying to open up this process.  Assembly Bill 42 (Huffman, D-Marin County) would authorize DPR to enter into contracts with qualified non-profit organizations to assist with the operation and management of state parks slated for closure. Senator Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) is carrying Senate Bill 356 that would require the Department to notify local governments of its intent to close state parks within their jurisdiction and provides timelines for those local entities to take over operations and maintenance of the parks.

California’s state parks are an important part of what makes California’s communities tick.  These areas of wilderness and open space are treasured resources that should be protected.  We don’t always have to rely on government to accomplish this goal – more often than not a non-governmental solution is the best solution.

All Californians have an interest in seeing a healthy, open state park system.  The bipartisan support we have received for our legislation indicates an open park system is a goal Californians of all political persuasions can share. As we go through the final days of the legislative session, I remain hopeful that we will take positive steps to protect our state’s treasures.

State Sen. Tom Harman, a Huntington Beach Republican, represents a district that includes Laguna Beach.

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