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Will Prop. 21 save Auburn recreation area?

Residents offer mixed views on funding measure on Nov. 2 ballot
By: Chelsea Foster Special to the Journal
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California’s tight budget continues to place state parks in peril of cutbacks or closures. Proposition 21, the California State Parks Initiative on the November general election ballot, claims to have the solution to the problem of underfunding for state parks. Prop. 21 proposes to collect an additional $18 fee per registered motor vehicle in California and establish a trust fund for state parks with that revenue. According to Scott Liske, representative of the California State Park Rangers Association, “Prop. 21 will save state parks, without a doubt.” “Currently, California state parks are funded through the general state fund, like corrections and education. Every year we fight for a budget that is fair, and we are never funded to the level that allows us to do the things in the park system that we want and need to do,” Liske said. According to Prop. 21 literature, state parks were nearly shut down twice during the last two years. Forty-eight parks were proposed for closure in 2008, and in 2009, 220 parks (80 percent of all state parks) were proposed for closure. Last-minute reprieves in budget saved the parks each time. Continued budget cuts do not bode well for the parks, which have suffered from long-term underfunding, according to the Prop. 21 texts. Aside from potential closure, the most pressing problems facing state parks because of budget cutbacks are staffing and maintenance, Liske said. “Some of the money from this initiative will be spent on a huge maintenance backlog. For example, buildings need roofs replaced. Bathrooms are closed because they don’t meet standards,” he said. Jenny Gardemeyer, who has been a California State Park Ranger since 2002, is familiar with the effects of the staffing shortage. “There is so much labor to be done, and not enough workers or funding to do it,” she said. “In 1977, there were 12 field rangers working in Auburn. The population has a least doubled since then, but the staff has been cut in half,” Gardemeyer said. According to Gardemeyer, the reduced staffing presents officer and visitor safety issues, particularly in remote areas of parks where backup response to officer calls for help is not always quick. Liske confirmed the staffing problems and pointed out that the passage of Prop. 21 would likely create some more jobs within the state. “We have approximately 200 vacant ranger positions statewide. We also need to hire more maintenance workers to work on the backlog of maintenance projects and keep parks clean,” Liske said. Those opposed to Prop. 21 take their stance against an additional fee imposed on all of California’s already-taxed residents. Wendy Nelson, spokesperson for the No On 21 Campaign, said, “California is the highest-taxed state in the nation, and we should be benefiting from that. The legislature is not funding things important to the citizens but is asking us to pay additional taxes, disguised with the term ‘fee’.” Nelson, who said that she cares very much about state parks, believes this is the wrong way to go about saving them, particularly given the precedent this initiative sets. “The slippery slope effect is a huge issue. We are fearful that they will use the vehicle license fee to fund other projects important to citizens like community colleges, hospitals and others. What is to stop them from doing that instead of taking responsibility for the budget?” Nelson said. Liske would argue that the responsibility for maintaining state parks now falls on the citizens’ shoulders. “Cleaning up the way the legislature operates would be great, so there is more money to go around. But that is just not happening. This initiative is the one chance to save state parks,” Liske said.