Once considered a “best in the nation” system, California’s parks and open spaces have suffered in recent years from a lack of adequate funding to meet the backlog of unseen or aging infrastructure at many of the state’s most beautiful places. Additionally, parklands are on the front line of climate change, affected by severe storms and sea-level rise, drought and fire — increasing the backlog. Deferring maintenance is akin to taking on more debt — it costs more to fix things as their condition worsens. Gov. Jerry Brown used this same analogy with regard to the Legislature’s transportation measure: “If the roof on your house is leaking, you better fix it, because it gets worse all the time.” We agree — the time to fix our parks is now.
Two park bond bills, AB18 and SB5, are moving toward the governor’s desk for his signature before placement on the 2018 ballot. Both outline funding for disadvantaged communities, increased preparation for, and resiliency to, climate change and per capita distribution to every community in the state. The combined leadership of Senate Pro Tem Kevin de León, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia, D-Coachella (Riverside County), in championing these bills toward a bond to tackle the $25 billion of deferred maintenance in parks throughout the state is commendable. It has been 15 years since a legislative park bond made it to the ballot; it’s parks’ turn.
Furthermore, the opportunity to generate new jobs and revenue by fixing our parks and increasing park use — whether state, regional or local open spaces — is significant. We need to reinvest in these places, which contribute so greatly to our overall health and quality of life.
An example is given in a recent study that found the value of the East Bay Regional Park District in Oakland to the state’s economy to be $500 million annually. As the land managed by the district is a minor share of the state’s 47 million acres of open space, imagine how much greater this effect of parks throughout the state is to California’s economy.
How can we afford not to take action to stabilize and return our state’s parks to the national model they once were?
Deferring maintenance diminishes public interest in visiting parks and compounds our long-term debt. Approving a park bond is an urgent necessity and can be done in 2018. It’s a good investment. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for jobs. It’s good for the environment. And it’s good for our health.
For all his measurable accomplishments, the governor has one more enduring legacy to fulfill — a secure future for California’s parks and open spaces and the hundreds of thousands of jobs the great outdoors supports in the state. Share the importance of parks and open space with your legislators and with the governor today.
Robert Doyle is the general manager of the East Bay Regional Park District, the largest local park district in the United States, with 15 million visitors per year to its 65 parks and 1,250 miles of trails on 120,931 acres of open space.
Robert E. Doyle