In June, California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird and California State Parks Director Major Gen. Anthony L. Jackson, USMC (Ret.), unveiled “Parks Forward,” a collaborative initiative to undertake a top-to-bottom evaluation to improve and sustain California’s state parks system.

The effort responds to several issues involving misappropriation of the agency’s funding and a March recommendation from California’s Little Hoover Commission report urging a new operating model.

The Resources Legacy Fund will underwrite the commission’s operating expenses. It has agreed to provide $1 to $2 million for the next two years. By April 2014, the commission is to produce an assessment of the current challenges and issues facing the state park system and a draft plan for ensuring the system’s long-term health and financial viability. The final plan with recommendations is to be completed by October 2014.

Part of the commission’s mission will be to identify cost-effective funding levels for park operations, appropriate revenue sources (including state appropriations and user fees, concessionaire fees and other new fees, taxes or assessments), and redesign the financial planning and budgeting processes.

The commission has scheduled a series of workshops to obtain public views. September meetings are in Santa Cruz, Fresno and San Luis Obispo. More will occur in October.

Members of the Parks Forward Commission and its executive director were announced in August. Former State Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego and Lance Conn, a Bay Area businessman and conservationist, will co-chair the commission.

Ken Wiseman is executive director. For the past six years, he has served as executive director of the Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, a partnership between the state’s Natural Resources Agency and a group of charitable foundations.

Other commission members include Carolyn Finney, PhD, Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at the U.C. Berkeley College of Natural Resources assistant professor; Caryl Hart, PhD, Sonoma County Regional Parks director; Dr. Stephen Lockhart, PhD, Sutter Health, East Bay Region regional vice president and chief medical officer; Michael Lynton, Sony Entertainment Inc. chief executive officer; Julie Packard, Monterey Bay Aquarium executive director and vice-chair of the aquarium’s board of trustees; Manuel Pastor, PhD, American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California professor; John Reynolds, former National Park Service employee; Hawk Rosales, InterTribal Sinkyone Wilderness Council executive director; Toby Rosenblatt, Founders Investments Ltd. president and general partner and a BlackRock Equity Liquidity Mutual Funds, Forward Management, and the Pherin Corporation director; and Michael Woo, College of Environmental Design dean at Cal Poly Pomona.

The new Parks Forward initiative is designed to implement the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012 directives and to revive and improve California’s State Parks.

The department had recently faced the threat of park closures, but unreported funding was discovered, leading to audits and investigations. The unreported funding of $20.5 million was returned to the department, and half is being used to prevent park closures.