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Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Response to Widespread Problems of State Parks Department Begins to Take Shape at the Helm

• Collaborative Initiative Seen as Key Step to Restore Prestige

BY SUZANNE GULDIMANN

California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird and California State Parks Director Major General Anthony Jackson, USMC (Ret.), revealed the state’s plan to shore up and stabilize California’s crisis-racked Department of State Parks, which is still perceived by many as still mired in financial scandal, mismanagement and years of neglect.
“A distinguished volunteer panel, known as the Parks Forward Commission, will lead the new Parks Forward initiative, designed to implement the directives of the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012 and to revive and improve California’s State Parks,” a press release states.
“Parks Forward is an exciting new initiative designed to bring out the very best in our state’s storied parks. This esteemed group will work to improve efficiency, increase accessibility and meet the needs of our growing and changing population,” said Secretary Laird. “California’s State Parks will once again flourish and serve as prized destinations across our cities, mountains, valleys and coastlines.”
The “collaborative initiative” proposes “a top-to-bottom evaluation to improve and sustain California’s underfunded State Parks System,” according to Laird.
Currently, there are 280 California State Parks that encompass 1.6 million acres and draw some 70 million visitors annually.
State Parks is the City of Malibu’s biggest neighbor—Topanga, Malibu Creek, Leo Carrillo and Point Mugu State Parks surround Malibu.
Within the City of Malibu, the agency owns the Malibu Lagoon, Adamson House Museum, Malibu Pier, and Topanga and Point Dume State Beaches.
California State Parks’ Angeles District manages more than 270 park units, and 35,059 acres within the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, which is managed in collaboration with the National Park Service, which currently holds 22,093 acres, and other local agencies.
According to the report, State Parks return an estimated $6.5 billion to the California economy and supporting 56,000 California jobs. “This system has been the proud result of significant and sustained investment by not only the state and its citizens, but also philanthropic contributors and conservation organizations whose combined efforts built the system we know today,” the announcement states. “But under the weight of budget cuts, added acreage, rising populations, and outmoded systems, California’s parks system is struggling to meet the needs of its citizens.” 
“California State Parks are an essential part of Californians' daily lives. They provide quality recreation and inspiration, and it is our intent to improve it for future generations,” said Parks Director Jackson. “The expertise and knowledge of those representing State Parks and the Parks Forward initiative will provide a unique insight and best practices to ensure our parks move forward into the 21st Century and beyond. We are fully aware the eyes of Californians are on us, and I am committed to making this initiative open and transparent, and one that yields achievable results.”
Signed into law last year, the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, or AB 1589, “seeks to improve management and funding practices at the Department of Parks and Recreation.”
Laird will select between nine and 12 Parks Forward Commission members. He will then select two of the members to serve as chair and vice chair.
The Parks Forward Commission will “work as an independent body and will meet several times during the next two years to guide and review relevant research, analysis, and public input, assess the current system, and adopt plans that will be designed to transform the current system into one that is financially sustainable, appropriately located, and better serves California’s growing and changing population.”
The commission is expected to adopt a number of recommendations made earlier this year by an independent review of the agency conducted by the Little Hoover Commission that found the department to be out of touch, out of date, inflexible, uncooperative and increasingly unable to adequately manage and maintain its holdings. Recommendations included changes to a park policy that has focused almost entirely on promoting personnel with law enforcement backgrounds rather than individuals with management, education, conservation and other essential training, as well as streamlining, updating and decentralizing State Parks management.
The Parks Forward Commission is scheduled to present its final findings and recommendations to the Governor and the Legislature in fall 2014.
More information on the initiative is available at http://parksforward.com

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