I attended the 11th annual Park Advocacy Day in Sacramento this week, an event sponsored by the California State Parks Foundation. It is a day that brings state park supporters from all over California to wander the halls of the State Capitol Building, meet with legislators, and lobby them on issues related to state parks. This was my fourth year attending Park Advocacy Day, and my second year as a team leader. The team leaders had a preparatory meeting on Monday afternoon, and the big all-day event is on Tuesday.
Each year I travel to Sacramento early Monday morning and visit a new state park, in order to gather some inspiration and see firsthand what it is we are lobbying to protect. This year I visited Indian Grinding Rock State Historic Park, up in the Sierra Nevada foothills, about an hour east of Sacramento. The park preserves a large boulder of calcified limestone that contains 1,185 bedrock mortars, the largest collection in the world. The mortars were used by the Northern Sierra Miwok to grind acorns, an important staple of their diet. The place also served as a spiritual gathering place for the Miwok and continues to this day as a community resource for ceremonies and special events for the local Miwok. A replica Miwok village and roundhouse provide some insight into the lives of these people before the arrival of the white man.
I had a chance to talk with one of the docents, a volunteer who had a deep knowledge of the site and its importance to the Miwok community. She was able to give me some tips on how to spot the petroglyphs that adorn the bedrock mortars, a feature that adds to the cultural significance of this site. The petroglyphs, designs that are chiseled into the rock, are estimated to be 2,000 – 3,000 years old, so they have become very faded and difficult to see. I was able to find five of them, which depict deer hooves, bear paws, human hands, and the radiating rays of the sun. Volunteer docents like the one I spoke with are eager to share their expertise about the parks, representing the best of California State Parks in their dedication, knowledge, and passion. They are truly a strong indication of how highly we value the parks that we have preserved for public use and enjoyment.
I got back to Sacramento in the afternoon and checked into my hotel. Then I went to the team leader meeting, where we received our list of appointments with legislators and the list of people assigned to each of our teams. My team consisted of myself, along with Stacey Anderson from Fairfax, Erin Coe from Petaluma, and Dr. JoDean Nicolette from Santa Rosa. This year, my team had appointments with Assemblymen Mark Levine (D-San Rafael) and Wes Chesbro (D-North Coast), and Senators Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) and Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina).
Park Advocacy Day started bright and early on Tuesday morning at 8:00 AM. We met our teams over breakfast and started to strategize for the day. California State Parks Foundation President Elizabeth Goldstein welcomed us with opening remarks, followed by Traci Verardo-Torres, Vice President, Government Affairs for the Foundation, who gave us a review of our talking points for the day, along with a brief overview of legislation related to state parks that is currently pending before the legislature.
Several of the bills that we supported in past years, such as AB 42 and AB 1589, both authored by former Assemblyman Jared Huffman, have become law and are now helping state parks that were threatened with closure. We are elated at these victories but recognize that the fight to protect our parks is far from over. We were determined to encourage lawmakers we met to help us create long-term funding solutions for state parks and find a way to alleviate the $1.3 billion backlog of deferred maintenance projects in the parks.
Park Advocacy Day presents a unique opportunity for grassroots state park supporters to become a lobbyist for a day, talking directly to legislators and their staff about park-related issues. Part of our task as lobbyists is to talk about specific pieces of legislation that are making their way through the Assembly and the Senate. There are four bills right now related to state parks, and we presented each one in our meetings with legislators and asked for their support on these bills. Following is a brief summary of each of these bills:
AB 150, authored by Kristen Olsen (R – Modesto)
This bill calls for free admission to state parks to be provided to veterans and active duty service members on Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Some Park Advocacy Day attendees felt this was too small of a gesture to be offered to those who have risked their lives to defend our country, but the overall sentiment was that it is a positive step in the right direction. A long-term goal of park advocates is to expand access to state parks, not just for veterans, but also for groups that may not have the opportunity to visit these places, such as inner-city youth, the disabled, and the elderly.
AB 594, authored by Ben Hueso (D – San Diego)
This bill cleans up some technical contradictions between AB 42 and AB 1478, bills that were passed in previous years to address the threatened closure of 70 state parks. AB 42 allowed California State Parks to enter into Operating Agreements with nonprofit organizations to keep parks open. AB 1478 called for a two-year moratorium on park closures. This new bill makes it clear that Operating Agreements are still allowed during the time of the park closure moratorium. It faces little opposition, but is a good illustration of the complexity involved in crafting legislation.
SB 241, authored by Noreen Evans (D – Santa Rosa)
Noreen Evans is the caretaker senator for Marin County until 2014, since redistricting moved Mark Leno’s district further south. She has authored the most controversial bill related to state parks, which would require a two thirds majority to pass because it involves a tax increase. The tax is a 9.9% severance tax for oil extraction, one that is imposed on oil companies in 15 other states, including Alaska and Texas. The tax is estimated to generate hundreds of millions of dollars, 93% of which would to support the University of California, California State University, and California Community Colleges. The remaining 7% would go to support state parks.
SB 783, authored by Kevin deLeón (D – Los Angeles)
Known as the California Clean Water, Safe Urban Parks, and Environmental Health Investment Act of 2014, this bill would place a Bond Act on the ballot in 2014 to raise money for clean water, parks, and environmental health purposes. The bill delineates legislative findings about the impact of outdoor recreation on the economy and the health of our population. This is one of my personal favorites, because it makes a strong connection between recreation and health, reducing obesity, and alleviating the stress that builds up in our lives.
For those interested in tracking the progress of these bills, which can take up to two years to make their way through the Legislature, the California Legislative Information website offers a subscription service. Once you register with the site and choose the bills you want to follow, you will receive an email alert each time action is taken on the bill, whether it be a committee vote, amendment, or vote in the full Assembly or Senate.
The meetings with Assemblymembers and Senators went well. Each one was about 20 minutes to a half an hour, with enough time for each team member to cover their parts of the talking points and specific legislation. In most cases we met with staff members, although when we went to Assemblyman Mark Levine’s office, he greeted us enthusiastically. Mark has just started his first term in Sacramento, elected to the district vacated by Jared Huffman, who has moved on to Congress. Like Huffman, Mark is a big supporter of state parks and has attended many special events at China Camp over the past year.
After our four meetings with lawmakers, we went up to a committee room on the fourth floor of the Capitol to finish off the day with a Speakers Series. Senators Mark Leno (D – San Francisco) and Fran Pavley (D – Agoura Hiills) rallied the troops at the end of long day and it was great to hear them. Mark Leno is always an inspirational speaker, so it was great to wind down the day listening to him talk about the good work we are doing.
The last speaker of the day was Major General Anthony Jackson, USMC (Ret), the newly appointed Director of California State Parks. “Tony,“ as he likes to be called, told us his rich life history and how he came to be chosen for this position after the former director resigned in disgrace. He took some tough questions from the audience about how his department is going to have to rebuild trust and confidence in the institution of California State Parks. Tony is a very impressive man though, and he seems to be up to the challenge facing his organization. He has quickly taken the reigns and is following through on the recommendations of various audits and investigations that resulted from last year’s scandals. For the first time in years, I feel a sense of optimism about California State Parks.