Closed state parks cost Central Coast jobs

by John Laird, Cal Coast News

NOTE: John Laird and Sam Blakeslee are both candidates for the 15th State Senate District. CalCoastNews asked Laird and Blakeslee to give their opinions regarding economical issues facing our community.

We must take a stand to fix our state parks, so that we do not continue to lose jobs on the Central Coast ‘ right at the moment when our visitor-serving economy needs them the most.  A recent study found that state park visitors on average spend $57.63 in neighboring communities each time they visit a state park or beach.

Politicians talk a lot about ‘jobs, jobs, jobs,’ but seldom offer proposals to do anything to actually save, let alone create, them.  Fixing how we fund state parks will protect and add jobs along our coastline.

Our parks are plagued by years of neglect. The Sacramento Bee reported recently that at Hearst Castle, arguably California’s most famous state park, the marble Neptune Pool leaks so much that stalactites have formed in a cavity underneath.

The Bee story further pointed out that Hearst Castle generates more revenue than any other park: $8.8 million in visitor fees the year before last. Yet, even at such a popular park, there’s a maintenance backlog that includes a need for a replacement roof for the castle’s Spanish tile roof and a new roof for the visitor center ‘ projects that require $4.3 million.  The security system for artifacts in the mansion and guesthouses needs upgrading and the interior architecture needs work. And this is just one of the 278 parks.

Twelve new parks and 100,000 acres have been added in the last decade, because voters believe in parks and have approved state bond money to add parks to the system. But state support for maintenance has dropped in that period.

A $1.3 billion park maintenance backlog has piled up as a result. It’s gotten so bad that it would take a budget increase of about $120 million a year just to keep from adding to the maintenance backlog’let alone actually trying to reduce it.

I proposed in 2008 a vehicle license fee increase of $10 a year to reinvest in our parks and provide free entrance to parks for California vehicles with non-commercial license plates. At the time, a poll showed well over 70 percent of Californians supported this plan.

But in the political gridlock that characterizes the California legislature today, no-taxes-ever pledges by legislators to out-of-state political operatives don’t allow for such a proposal to get the two-thirds vote necessary to be successful. In response, 700,000 Californians signed petitions to put Proposition 21 on the ballot for November.

The state budget, now six weeks late, comes first. Can we hold the park system together ‘ and the jobs it supports ‘ until the voters weigh in on a long-term solution in November?  Whoever comes out of the Senate race in the 15th District will likely cast a key vote in answering that question.

My opponent, Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee, says our parks are funded fine at current levels and he’s opposed to Proposition 21. In interviews with the media, he says what’s needed is more work by volunteers and non-profit organizations. His position is out of step with California and way out of step with the Central Coast.

In the special election for the 15th Senate District, I have been slammed with about $2 million of negative ads in this election just because I have the courage to propose real solutions to problems like funding for state parks.

People are tired of gridlock and are hungry for solutions that make sense’that don’t make our state budget problems worse, that invest in our future and that build our economy.  That’s why I proposed a way to save our state parks and I support Proposition 21. It’s a central dividing issue in this election.

Let’s move above all the negative ads and get to the business of fixing our state and creating jobs. We can do this. Election day is August 17’please vote.

John Laird is a former Assemblymember, who represented the 27th Assembly District on the Central Coast.  The author of the bill that established the Sierra Nevada Conservancy, he has been endorsed by the Sierra Club, CDF Firefighters and the Consumer Federation of California