Monday, February 6, 2012

Protect California

Being a member of the Loma Prieta chapter I get lots of informative emails from the California Sierra Club containing local news reports, updates on issues and projects, and other matters of discussion pertinent to environmentalism. Most of the time I only skim them for the details that seem interesting, but the one I got today really got my attention, and made me cheer. I have never stated it, but it really has seemed odd to me that Sierra Club had been strangely passive on the issue of California State park closures. Closing state parks would, after all, be extremely bad in terms of the implications for preservation and conservation. The email message consisted of a form letter from the new Director of Sierra Club California, Kathryn Phillips. Among other things, it contains an announcement of a new Sierra Club campaign and associated website called Protect California. It’s not very long but is important, so I have copied it here. It is well worth reading.

"A few weeks after I joined the Sierra Club California staff last August, a member walked into my office to complain. He was agitated about the threat of state parks closures. He was especially upset about Sierra Club action. He felt we hadn't done enough on the parks issue."

"Our conversation was robust, to say the least. I had the benefit of being new to the job--I didn't have to take blame or credit for anything--so I could listen with some element of calm. Until, that is, he suggested I didn't really care about the environment."

"Yee-haw! The skies parted, my mouth opened, and my tongue started wagging with rage. I think he quickly realized he had misjudged me."

"He was partly right about something else, though: Despite many hours spent lobbying at the Capitol, Sierra Club California staff and volunteers hadn't been able to prevent Governor Brown from proposing, and the legislature accepting, a $22 million cut in the state parks budget. Once that cut was adopted, nobody was able to persuade the Department of Parks and Recreation to absorb the cuts in ways that would not close the parks."

"Sierra Club California and other groups worked hard together to kill the cuts, and failed. But let's be very clear about one thing: the blame for the park closures rests squarely on the shoulders of the governor and the legislature. Governor Brown proposed the cuts; the legislature acquiesced."

"In May, the Department of Parks and Recreation released a list of 70 parks to be closed. That's a full quarter of the state system's 278 parks and beaches. Just how that list was developed remains murky, as demonstrated during a grilling of high-level park staff at a legislative informational hearing a few months ago. Senator Noreen Evans recently introduced legislation, SB 974, designed to shed a bright and public light on the closure list selection process."

"This week, we launched the Protect California Campaign ( to educate government officials and opinion leaders about key environmental issues. The parks closure issue is one of the issues on which the campaign will focus. Beyond that, we have been putting into place our parks strategy for the next few months and planning for coming years."

"We will be sharing more about our parks strategy as it unfolds, but for now, here's something we think all our Club members should know: Economizing by closing parks is penny wise, but pound foolish. Closures cut local business and tourist revenue and encourage vandalism and misuse of valuable wildlife habitat and recreational sites. This was made very clear by business and tourist industry representatives who testified at the Protect California hearing at the Capitol on February 1."

"It was also made clear to me by that angry member's visit last year. He had run the numbers."

"Californians have recognized the need for state parks, places that protect natural or cultural features and provide public recreation, since the 1880s. Closing parks now is squandering our children's inheritance. The staff members here at Sierra Club California are committed to helping keep the parks open."

Kathryn Phillips
Sierra Club California