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California, here's my $18 for the ghost of Proposition 21

California, the check is in the mail.

It’s my share of Proposition 21, that $18 annual vehicle fee to help rescue our state parks from neglect and decay.

I read the papers; I know Proposition 21 lost and it wasn’t even close -- by almost 16%. And I know there were some principled reasons to vote against it, mostly that it’s the Legislature’s and the governor’s job to budget for the parks, not voters’ (Sacramento’s done such a bang-up job there), and that the last thing we need is more ballot-box budgeting.

Still, the state parks budget has already been hacked away like a clear-cut forest. The 278 parks, a million and a half acres’ worth, are California’s patrimony. The coast, the mountains, the deserts are priceless treasures, features no other single state can boast. And they’re getting no love from Sacramento. The hours have been cut back. So has maintenance. Fewer visitors means less in the cash register. Some amenities -- the things that make parks useful for visitors and campers -- have fallen to pieces. It would take more than $1 billion just to bring the parks back to reasonable health, never mind improving them.

Proposition 21 would have put about a half-billion dollars a year into the parks -- and only into the parks. Remember "lock box"? This proposition had a lock-box provision to keep the Legislature’s fingers off that dough (if I had my druthers, the lock box would have on of those fail-safe devices that would slice off the digits of any would-be filchers).

We’ve already destroyed 99% of our wetlands in California. We cut down trees and pave over habitat every day. Now the parks may wind up being the ICU of habitat and creatures -- the last line of defense if they are to survive, and there’s an argument to be made that our survival depends on theirs.

Last year, the National Park Service warned that it could take back six state parks if California doesn’t keep them up. Those six were originally federal land, donated on the condition they stay open to the public. If they don’t, they could revert to federal hands -- parklands like Point Mugu near Malibu, land and a lighthouse in Big Sur, and Angel Island in San Francisco Bay.

And Proposition 21 failed, for many reasons, like those I enumerated already. (Remember that, the next time you plan a family trip and find your favorite parks closed.)

But that doesn’t mean we can’t embrace Proposition 21 ourselves. About 3.4 million people voted for it. I’m sure some of those voters own more than one car, and some have no car at all. But average it out, and if each of those ''yes'' voters gave $18 to the parks, once a year, that could put more than $50 million back into the parks. It’s a long, long way from a half-billion, but it’s something. And something seems to be about the best we can expect these days.

If you decide to send your check too, put in a note to the state parks folks: spend it for good health -- the parks'.

-- Patt Morrison



Comments () | Archives (26)

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The State of California should look into contracting out the campgrounds in the state parks system.


You said it all. If the lousy state government cant budget for the parks then it is what it is. Here is an idea, ready? Hold volunteer weekends or weeks, where you assign campground spots and for that time period the campers donate their time, say 5 hours a day to fix up the park. Mayube even pre-inform each camper as to what their project will be and they can brong some supplies and equipment/tools for that project.. Also, no state legislator should be allowed into any state park until they fix the PROBLEM.


I'm a CA and I love my state. The trust has been broken between the citizens and the legislature. Who is accountable for the money being spent for the purpose it was intended for? Extra sales tax, added state tax on fuel, lottery (tax) and it all ended up in the general fund. When you prove to CA citizens that a new fee (tax) will go to its intended purpose I might vote for it.

Mark Williams

Proposition 21 was an abomination. Why in hell should working and poor Californians subsidize wilderness, primarily for relatively wealthy Californians, while local parks and recreation centers that typical California children rely on decline and close? The California State Parks Department is a typical government agency irrelevant to the overwelming majority of Californians. Some of their properties should be sold. Some others can be managed more efficiently by private and nonprofit organizations.


Its interesting that the voters never hesitate to approve fees and taxes that someone else will have to pay.


Why in hell should working and poor Californians subsidize wilderness, primarily for relatively wealthy Californians, while local parks and recreation centers that typical California children rely on decline and close?

Posted by: Mark Williams

I could say the same thing about public schools. Since barely half the kids graduate why should I have to support a public school system when a large percentage of the kids going to those schools are too lazy to get a diploma?

Thad Allen

Prop 21 would have simply allowed the government to move the funding we already have for the state parks out of the general fund, thereby freeing up $500 million for other state business. We wouldn't be getting new parks or better parks. We would have the same parks we have now, but there would be an extra $500 million in the general fund. That's what we voted against....

...feel free to send in your $18, though. We need some way to pay for Rizzo's pension.


Want to hear an easy answer? Privatize the parks.


It was always an indirect tax. Any money going to the parks by this tax would have been offset by less money going from the general fund. The spoiled children running this state have to start making tough choices. That's what they get paid for. Giving them an out by taxing everyone to save the parks allow them another $500M to not make a tough choice elsewhere (like state pensions). People are starting to see the trade-offs (kill the parks to keep giving state unions increased pay, benefits, and pensions) our children in office are making. They're not falling for it.


And I agree with Joe. If there was a flat tax or consumption tax, it would spell the end of the Democrats. They only survive by pitting a majority of non-tax paying voters against a minority of those who actually pay. If they HAD to make everyone pay, suddenly the spending would be cut.


Yeah, the only problem with sending them a check is that we were supposed to get something in return for our money, that is, free admission to the parks. I will do my fair share this year when I pay more than 2x this amount for entry to the parks.


Remember, we live in a society incapable of looking more than three months ahead. A society that obviously cares not one iota what kind of land and climate its children and grandchildren will inherit. Why have state parks, why protect California's natural resources if I don't get a job right NOW?????


I agree with you. Shouldn't there be a budget "rightfully" appropriated to the State parks from the State budget? Isn't that what they should be doing?
Do you know what really turned off most voters? It was linked to the DMV fee, which saw a considerable increase these past years. There's already lot of unregistered cars on the streets of CA because of the increased fees. And then they try to add $18 more?


Yikes. No wonder our state is going down the hole. Reading these comments is an eye-opener. I am now of the opinion that the vast majority of people in this country have become not only more stupid but more selfish. The "what's in it for me" attitude is clear in these comments - paying only for free admission, etc. And, Mark Williams, you are clearly uninformed. Because of their low entry fees, the working and poor are often the biggest users of our state parks and beaches. It's about all they can afford to do. All these complainers about another whopping $18 fee, don't mind paying $4 for a cup of coffee every day, or $100 a month for their cell phone bills, or $15 for a bottle of wine. Get over yourselves. These parks are our greatest asset and treasure, full of history, beauty and wildlife. Now they can fall to wreck and ruin because of the anti-tax fever running rampant in this country. People want all these services - schools, police, fire, social security, but nobody wants to pay for it. You can't get something for nothing. Makes me very, very sad.

Ellen Herbert

Thank you so much for articulately expressing what so many Californians are feeling. Writing my check now..

No on 21

I always like Morrison's pieces. She's right of course. We ought to be able to keep up its parks. But park maintenance ought to be easy with what the state takes in now. Ditto roads, hospitals, and full time librarians. But when UC professors and DMV clerks retire at age 50 with guaranteed penions, and we have debt payments to make, and borrow 40m a day from the feds to pay unemployment, something has to give. The voters with high income taxes, high sales taxes and a high unemployment rate said they've given enough. Perhaps the UC professors will agree to retire at age 60 instead of 50?


I also believe there is a Santa Claus. It's going to be like lottery money....a deduction not addition too.

No Pat, you need to send $125. Here is the link for your annual pass.


steve chandler

I don't know if you're aware of it Pat, but the charge for day use only at most state parks is at least $8. Why on earth would anyone pay the state $18 and get nothing in return, not even a single entry pass into a state park. Frankly, maybe you should do what I've doing for over 20 years, and and show your support by buying a yearly state park pass for $125.


What some people failed to realize is that a really first-class state park system can bring in a LOT of out-of-state tourist dollars to help California's economy.
Manufacturing has vanished from California, we need to make jobs some how, and more tourism, not less, is what we need. No one can outsource our beaches and our redwood forests.

Sadly you just don't know where all the tax money goes any more. I was wary and concerned about exactly where the 500 billion would go--into state employee pensions, instead of into actual park care and park infrastructure? Or did the legislation have loopholes written into it so that all the money would vanish into the general fund anyway?

The point however is that without good infrastructure, we'll end up like India. For everyone who thinks government spending on infrastructure is a waste, try visiting India, the land of open sewers and potholed roads and see if that is what you want our country to become.


Here's an easy solution. Why not get corporate sponsors for the parks. If we can have Petco Park in San Diego or Oracle Stadium, why not Oracle State Park or Microsoft Beach? Meg Whitman can throw in $140M for eBay Island. While we're at it, the unions can do themselves a favor and help their images. SEIU Salton Sea Recreation area anyone?

The TCA sucks!

"Why in hell should working and poor Californians subsidize wilderness, primarily for relatively wealthy Californians..."

Oh, really? I wonder how you drew that conclusion. I mean, I never realized that CA's state parks were the exclusive playgrounds of CA's wealthy elite! Personally, I visit state parks because 1) they are wonderful vacation spots, and (2 I'm way TOO POOR to afford vacations to the Tahiti, the French Riviera, etc. It's a lot more affordable to just go camping. But I had no idea I was one of the few non-wealthy people visiting the parks! Haha! No, CA's state parks belong to ALL Californians (and future generations of Californians), not just the wealthy.

Besides, Joe makes a good point regarding the "I don't use state parks, so why should I have to pay for them" argument: Using that rational, one could argue, "I don't have kids, so why should I pay for schools?", "I never ride the Metrolink trains, so why should I pay for those?", "My house has never caught fire, why should I pay for fire fighters?" and so on and so forth. But the fact is that these things (parks, highways, schools, etc) benefit a significant portion of the population, so we all pay our share in taxes, fees, etc.

What pisses me off is that Prop 21 existed in the first place; I mean, it's sad that citizens have been driven to use the ballot box in an attempt to compensate for the state government's ineptitude! If those clowns in Sacramento would get their act together then this whole thing would be a non-issue.
But since it seems Sacramento's budget incompetence issues aren't going anywhere anytime soon, my only other suggestion (and I'm not the first to suggest this, by any means) would be to make the $18 fee (tax, whatever) optional; they did it in Montana, and a surprisingly large portion of the population opts-in...enough to adequately fund their state parks!


Politicians love these "special taxes" that the voters are stupid enough to vote for. This frees up general fund money that would have otherwise been used to fund the parks. Remember how the lottery was going to save our schools?

And why not a consumption tax, opposed to sticking it to vehicle owners? We just had our registration fees increased substantially to pay for the mess in Sacramento. Enough!


They are already supposed to pay for state parks with our tax dollars. Instead, they spend our money irresponsibly and threaten us with pictures of forests behind a lock and key, which belong to US, saying that they need more, or else.

If it passed they would have more money to blow on something other than our parks, and years later come back and try the same old trick. It's a game. It's a shame. We need to stop handing over more money because they screwed up.

Mitchell Young

Mass immigration = privatization of profits, socialization of costs.

Combined with the tendency of diverse (tm) societies to lack public-spiritedness (see scholar Robert Putnam), and this is what we get. Struggling public institutions -- schools, universities, transportation infrastructure, parks. But hey, those behind the gates of their 'gate-guarded community' can enjoy the services of a housekeeper and gardener for cheap. Then again, many of the people who financed the initial building of these institutions -- and/or their descendants -- have left the state for greener pastures anyway.

link taxes and expenses

I would've voted for this proposition if anyone could have logically told me why vehicle fees should be used for parks. I always vote against props where the tax/fee is not directly linked to the use of funds. A tax/fee on vehicles should be used on...transportation.

We should spend more funds on state parks, along with lots of other high priority issues (children, health care, etc.). But these expenses need to be paid out of taxes from everyone in the state, not just those who are charged a fee or tax for specific activites.

Virginia Linnett

Amen sister. The check's in the mail.



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The Opinion L.A. blog is the work of Los Angeles Times Editorial Board membersNicholas Goldberg, Robert Greene, Carla Hall, Jon Healey, Sandra Hernandez, Karin Klein, Michael McGough, Jim Newton and Dan Turner. Columnists Patt Morrison and Doyle McManus also write for the blog, as do Letters editor Paul Thornton, copy chief Paul Whitefield and senior web producer Alexandra Le Tellier.

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