At its final meeting Friday, Feb. 6, the Parks Forward Commission will review its final report and recommendations for the future management of the state park system.
Collectively, the numerous recommendations will result in a fundamental transformation of the California Department of Parks and Recreation. The commission recognizes that change requires planning and needs time; consequently, it proposes the creation of a team within the agency to analyze and guide implementing various other recommendations.
The department has already begun to implement this step. On Jan. 22, Lisa Mangat, acting director, California State Parks, announced the formation of a 14-member Transformation Team.
“The job of the Transformation Team is bold and ambitious, and I am confident we have put the right people in place to lead this charge,” Mangat said in the press release. “The Parks Forward report is the beginning of the conversation. We have a responsibility to ensure positive and meaningful changes happen that will have a lasting impact for the visitors, supporters and staff of California State Parks.”
The principal impetus for the Parks Forward initiative was a 2012 budgetary problem that led to the department’s tentative proposal to close 70 units. Later that summer, it was disclosed that the department had $54 million of hidden assets. A year later in 2013, the commission was created to evaluate the department and recommend changes to improve its future viability.
“We recognize that change at this level is not the easiest path forward — that it may be easier and generate broader support to simply call for more funding and propose modest incremental change … Our treasured parks, the people of California and dedicated park staff deserve better,” the commission declared.
The numerous commission recommendations seem practical (such as eliminating the maintenance backlog and funding future maintenance), ambitious (such as ensuring “Every urban Californian lives within a safe, half-mile walk of a well-maintained park …”) and pragmatic (such as working more collaboratively with public and private partners).
A critical recommendation is the establishment of “Park California,” which would be a nonprofit public benefit corporation to support the state agency. One of its goals is to promote and to expand access and visitation to a wider range of state residents.
“Expanding park visitation requires a focused effort to ensure park facilities, amenities and programming serve the needs of a broader base of park visitors,” is one of the future goals.
Regardless of how outside funding is found for future parks, the commission recognized their public purpose and the continuing need for stable public funds. “Effective revenue models exist throughout the park system, and the best of these should be identified and taken to statewide scale, where appropriate,” the report states. “However, even with these effectiveness and revenue-generation improvements, General Fund reductions and deferred maintenance have compromised the state’s ability to manage and sustain the State Park System. Existing funding no longer guarantees the promise of the park vision to future generations.”
The Parks Forward Commission meeting is from 9:30 a.m. to noon Friday, Feb. 6, in Sacramento. They will also hear a presentation from Stamen Design, co-creators of the “CaliParks” mobile app, California’s first statewide park finder application.