On January 3, 2022, the California legislature began the second half of the two-year session. Historically a ceremonial day to celebrate the new year, this year began with dramatic shifts in committee Chairs impacting state parks.
Two of the most influential committee Chairs in the legislature are the Senate and Assembly Appropriations Chairs. These Chairs have nearly unilateral power to halt most legislation in their committee. Surprisingly, long-time Assembly Appropriation Chair Gonzalez resigned to become the president of the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO. Chair Gonzalez was California State Parks Foundation’s Legacy Award recipient in 2017 for her successful work on legislation to create low-cost lodging accommodations at coastal state parks. This resignation set up a cascade of changes in the Chairs of other committees.
A cascade of vacancies leaves the California Assembly with a new legislative leader for parks
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon is responsible for appointing new chairs when there are vacancies. Below are all the new appointments:
Assemblymember Chris Holden (District 41): Appointed as the chair of the Assembly Appropriation Committee. Although Holden has no state parks in his district, he sits on the Advisory Committee of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and a substantial amount of the land in his district is the Angeles National Forest. Holden is the first African American chair of the Appropriation Committee in 27 years. California State Parks Foundation looks forward to building a strong relationship with him to further investments in our state parks.
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (District 56): Appointed as the chair of the Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. Assemblymember Garcia is the previous chair of the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. He will now be filling Assemblymember Holden’s previous chair position in Assembly Utilities and Energy Committee. California State Parks Foundation is sad to see this exceptional park champion leave his position as Chair of the committee most pertinent to our work.
Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (District 16): Appointed as the chair of the Assembly Water, Parks, and Wildlife Committee. Although she is new to the committee, she is a veteran environmental advocate and attorney. Prior to her election to the Assembly in 2018, she specialized in ensuring corporations complied with environmental laws and regulations. Bauer-Kahan hails from the East Bay city of Orinda, and her district includes the Lake Del Valle State Recreation Area, Bethany Reservoir State Recreation Area, Carnegie State Vehicle Recreation Area, and borders Mount Diablo State Park.
Redistricting lead to resignations and early retirements in the California legislature
Although this activity in the legislature on the first day back in session was unusual, it is likely an indication of additional shuffles to come this year. The catalyst for these announcements is California’s redistricting process that occurs every 10 years. The new district maps pit incumbents against each other or cause sitting members to face more difficult elections than they want to pursue. Since the Redistricting Committee released the new maps in late December, 13 Assemblymembers and 3 Senators have announced they are resigning mid-term or not seeking re-election this upcoming November.
Most notably for state park advocates, Senator Henry Stern, Chair of the Senate Natural Resource Committee, announced he is running for a seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors. If he wins, we will resign from the Senate halfway through his second term. Elected in 2016, Stern is a champion for the environment and an Ex-Officio Member of the California State Park and Recreation Commission. As Chair of the Natural Resources and Water committee, Stern helps determine the fate of bills addressing important issues for state parks, including conservation and management of public resources, fish and wildlife, recreation, parks, and forestry practices. Across the aisle, Assemblymember Richard Bloom, Chair of the Budget Sub-Committee that analyzes the state parks budget, announced he would also not be seeking re-election to the Assembly to run for the same supervisorial seat as Stern. In this committee, Bloom will help determine the funding levels for our state parks, including whether specific projects addressing challenges like wildfires and climate change are resourced.
These substantial losses to the institutional knowledge of issues impacting state parks warrant vigilance. As new members enter the legislature, California State Parks Foundation looks to educate members on issues in state parks impacting our six main goals – climate resiliency, equitable access, honoring history and culture, protecting wildlife and nature, park experiences, and park funding. Through education, we can influence legislative and budget advocacy to support the protection and preservation of state parks, for all.