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

November 8, 2010 |  5:07 pm

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


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