Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Legislation to protect state parks clears first hurdle

California Chronicle

April 29, 2009

SACRAMENTO— Senate Natural Resources Committee voted today to approve legislation by Senator Lois Wolk (D-Davis) to protect the beauty and integrity of California´s state parks by preventing their conversion for private or corporate use. "Increasing development throughout the state has put considerable pressure on California´s state park system," Wolk said. "State parks are looked at as the path of least resistance for development projects, which pose significant threats to these diverse natural, historic and recreational resources." Wolk´s Senate Bill 679 prohibits the use of state park lands for non-park purposes without legislative approval.

Even with legislative approval, the bill would not allow a project to move forward unless the use of the park land was compensated for with a parks´ designation for land with equal environmental and fair market value. The bill is being sponsored by the California State Parks Foundation, which conducted a survey in 2007 that identified 122 threats to 73 state parks. High-profile examples include proposals to run a toll road through the heart of San Onofre State Beach and build two mega-dairies approximately a mile from Colonel Allensworth State Historic Park, the site of California´s only historic community founded and governed by African Americans.

Among those testifying in support of the measure was Traci Verardo-Torres, Legislative & Policy Director for the California State Parks Foundation, the bill´s sponsors. "SB 679 builds on the Legislature´s existing responsibility to protect our state parks system, by ensuring that the legislature is given the right to review projects that would alter or modify that park for non-park purposes," Verardo-Torres said. "This measure helps ensure that our state parks system, which is an asset that provides this state with economic, recreation, and education value, is maintained in perpetuity." "We are privileged in California to have the largest state park system in the world, and the state´s voters have voted consistently to support improvements for these resources.

My intent in authoring this bill is to protect the taxpayer´s investment for the enjoyment of future generations of Californians with clear, commonsense legal protection," Wolk concluded. The bill, which will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee, is also supported by Audubon California, California Council of Land Trusts, California Wilderness Coalition, Natural Resources Defense Council, Trust for Public Land, and the Surfrider Foundation.