On Wednesday, April 28 we came together as a parks community for our 19th annual Park Advocacy Day. While we weren’t able to meet in person again this year, attendees showed a passion for parks, with over 200 advocates joining the General Session webinar for 2 hours of engaging on park issues and hearing from park leaders.
For state parks, and all of us at California State Parks Foundation, the past 14 months have been tumultuous. Although it has been difficult at times, with lots of change and uncertainty, it has been incredibly inspiring to see volunteers, donors and advocates step up for parks.
Parks have been what people needed to get through the pandemic, and so, we gathered elected officials and park lovers from across the state for Park Advocacy Day to discuss how we can come together to fight for them.
The morning was kicked off by Rachel Norton, Executive Director of California State Parks Foundation. She spoke on the needs for parks, such as funding, climate resiliency, access, and preservation, and the importance of advocacy.
Some needs are constant – parks were underfunded when William Penn Mott Jr. founded California State Parks Foundation and they are still underfunded today. Funding is not the only challenge, the need to build climate resilient parks and protect wildlife and nature is more important than ever. Investing in helping our parks, and the plants and animals who depend on the habitats they contain, be more resilient to drought, extreme weather, sea level rise and other impacts of climate change.
Expanding access to parks and offering a relevant, welcoming and engaging experiences crucial. That’s why we also support investments that will enhance visitor experience – like chipping away at the enormous deferred maintenance backlog and expanding relevant programming and interpretation.
Finally, the need to preserve history and culture by honoring sites, artifacts, stories, and ideas that represent and reveal the wisdom, contributions, and experiences of everyone who has called California home. Investing in acquisitions, interpretation and access are key ways to ensure Californians feel connected to their parks as places that are relevant to their experiences.
Rachel reminded us all of the power we have when we raise our voices together. It took a village to beat back park closures, to fight power lines and toll roads, and it will take all of us to make sure that state parks get the investment they need to support our people and withstand climate change. And we can do it if we are focused, savvy and relentless.
Director Armando Quintero, Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation
Next up was Director Quintero, who took over as Director of the Department of Parks and Recreation last August. We asked Director Quintero to talk about his priorities for the parks system, and let us know how we, as champions for state parks, can help.
After touching on the 52 year history of California State Parks Foundation, Director Quintero spoke about how the incredible usage of parks recently. He said, “there’s a lot of people who are engaging with parks for the very first time. What we’re seeing right now is a wave of citizenry. People are discovering parks and the importance of what these places mean to them. For some, it means gathering with family. For others, it’s a solitary walk in a quiet, beautiful place. For some, it’s getting out in your boat. Parks really are for everybody.” He acknowledged that “there are 280 parks in the system with a wide variety of experiences and opportunities available to all the citizenry of the state and visitors.”
Director Quintero spoke about the importance of advocacy, and how it is the origin of the oldest state park in the system, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. It came about from lobbying the legislature and gathering signatures from citizens, convincing the legislature that starting a state park system was a good idea.
Recognizing the power of advocacy then and it’s power for the future he said, “thank you so much for joining in this effort that not only protects these pockets of the world, but also creates a level of understanding and engagement that will actually help create broader citizenry that recognizes the power of protecting these places as reflection of protecting ourselves.”
Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia, Representing 56th California Assembly District
Next, coming to us from the assembly chamber, Assemblymember Garcia removed his mask and spoke to advocates. Since his election to the Assembly in 2014, Assemblymember Garcia has been a true champion for parks and recreation. We asked Assemblymember Garcia to talk about his bill, AB 1500, and his general priorities for parks this year.
He recognized that there is a lot of work on the agenda in the Assembly’s Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee – the drought, oversight of investment of Prop 68, and Prop 1. He is excited to continue to allocate investments in parks, existing parks and perhaps new parks as well.
Talking about parks he wants to make sure that access is front and center. Programs to create access is extremely important and funding those programs are critical. “One of the things we want to see happen is utilizing our formulas of equity and really taking that to another level,” and he recognized the money in governor’s budget for access to parks as a good sign.
Assemblymember Garcia said, “I’m really proud of and passionate about the park work we’ve been able to do – and how it’s now carried over to having an impact statewide. For me, it really means being able to connect with folks like yourselves and other park advocates.”
Legislative and Budget Update
Following a break we heard from Danielle Lynch of Environmental and Energy Consulting took us through.
First she spoke to advocates about the state budget. Highlighting a focus on expanding park access and funds allocated to different parks and projects to address equity issues. In addition, a focus on climate change and funding to protect forests and help with forest management. She also spoke about SB 85 (Ting) Budget Act of 2020: Early Action Wildfire and Forest Resilience Package, which was signed into law on April 13 and is available immediately. The funding totals at $536M, including $15M for state parks.
Second she took us through the priority bills for California state parks. Some of the biggest bills are SB 45 (Portantino) and AB 1500 (Garcia), the two bond bills addressing climate change. Although the bills differ in the size, scope, and priorities, there is broad consensus in both houses that a 2022 bond is needed to support increasing climate threats and to create jobs. Additional bills to build climate resilient parks and expand access to parks we covered and a question and answer session provided clarity.
Danielle Lynch continued on to help us all understand why advocacy is so important. She reminded us that it is our right, and it is what living in a democracy is all about. Advocacy helps to improve government services and holds elected officials accountable. And maybe most importantly, it is a proven way to get things done. She talked us through the first steps to becoming an effective advocate, easy ways to get to know your legislators, and ways to engage in strategic advocacy.
Virtual Advocacy Month
While we aren’t able to be together in person and walk the halls of the capitol, California State Parks Foundation has put together tools and resources to advocate throughout the month of May for parks. Rachel Norton took us through some of those resources to start to get advocates engaged in the process.
Make sure you know your legislator. Go to our legislative look up and find out who your representative is.
Educate yourself on the process and issues. Read through the tools and resources to get even more information on the legislative and budget processes, and how you can get involved.
Take action! Action alerts have been set up to sign on the issues that need action now. See where you can email, call, and promote on social 2021 legislation for parks.
Share with us! Share how you are advocating throughout the month of May and encourage your followers to join you.
Tanisha Gupta, California State Parks Foundation volunteer
Lastly we heard from youth volunteer core leader, Tanisha Gupta. She spoke to us about her experience with parks, volunteering, and why it is so important for young people to be advocates for parks.
She shared her story on experiencing the benefit of parks, as a recipient of the national parks pass as a fourth grader with the Every Kid In A Park Pass program.
In her own words Tanisha said, “I cherished my national parks pass the entire fourth grade year, because it gave me the feeling that I had a special invitation to visit national parks that year. As we used the pass to enter the park, kind and encouraging words from the park staff were said to me as a pass holder. It contributed to my feeling welcome and wanting to visit parks more often. The same would be the case is if this park pass was extended to state parks.”
This extension to state parks is being proposed this year through legislation. AB 452 (Mathis) would waive the day-use entrance fee for fourth graders with the Every Kid In A Park Pass. As Tanisha believed, “fourth grade is a great age to be introduced to state and national parks, and the pass is a great motivator or a young child to visit.”
Closing out Park Advocacy Day 2021
It was truly inspiring to see advocates from up and down the state joining for Park Advocacy Day. The conversation was engaging and the chat was filled with thoughtful and insightful questions for the speakers.
We hope you will take the time to view all the information in full on this year’s Park Advocacy Day website. Learn more about advocacy and the issues, sign an action alerts, or look up your legislator at calparks.org/parkadvocacyday.