A bill to save financially doomed state parks, including several in Marin, jumped through a significant hoop this week and moves to the California State Assembly's Appropriations Committee for further consideration.
Assembly Bill 1589 was co-authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, who represents Mill Valley in the state Legislature.
The Assembly Revenue & Taxation Committee on Monday gave unanimous, bipartisan support to legislation written by Huffman (D-San Rafael) and Wesley Chesbro (D-North Coast) that offers several creative funding opportunities to help prevent state parks from being closed.
AB 1589, also known as the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, addresses short and long-term needs for California State Parks in order to achieve substantial budget savings without wide-scale park closures. The bill includes an option for taxpayers to designate all or a portion of their state income tax refund towards purchase of an annual state parks pass.
Several organizations in Marin County are raising funds to keep two state parks open. China Camp State Park in eastern San Rafael and Olompali are among 70 parks that could be closed on July 1 because of an $11 million shortfall in the California Department of Parks and Recreation's 2011-2012 budget and a projected $22 million deficit the following year.
Eleven of those parks could stay open if nonprofit organizations agree to operate them, the Department of Parks and Recreation said.
Huffman said Monday's step was both important and bipartisan.
“It’s important that as we continue to make technical improvements to the bill, we are getting unanimous votes in committee, and members of both parties continue asking to be added as co-authors," Huffman said. "I’m also grateful that State Controller John Chiang registered his support and is working with us to make sure key revenue elements of the bill are administratively feasible.”
Chesbro, who represents the 1st Assembly District, said the proposed parks closures disproportionately impact rural California, especially the North Coast.
“One of the key elements I wanted included in AB 1589 is the opportunity for Californians to purchase an annual parks pass with their tax refunds," he said. "This tool will increase revenue for the parks system with no impact to the general fund and more California families will get out and enjoy our state parks.”
AB 1589 includes the following additional provisions:
- Encourages formation of a state compact that guarantees an ongoing level of state funding for operations and maintenance of state parks.
- Creates a State Park Enterprise Fund to be used for construction and installation of modern revenue and fee collection equipment and technologies to increase park visitation and revenues.
- Produces a California State Park environmental license plate that individual vehicle owners could purchase and have the fees go towards support of state parks.
- Requires the Department of Parks and Recreation to be more transparent on how it evaluates and selects specific parks for closure, and places a cap of 25 state park units on the number of park closures allowed from 2012 to 2016 without legislative approval.
AB 1589 is also joint-authored by Assemblymembers Roger Dickinson, Mike Gatto and Kevin Jeffries.
Huffman represents the 6th Assembly District, which encompasses southern Sonoma County and all of Marin County. First elected in 2006, Huffman chairs the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee and also serves as Co-Chair of the Legislative Environmental Caucus.