I want to share a bit of the experience yesterday, especially since I'm not seeing anything on it in the Chronicle. No wonder the legislators think we are not paying attention. There were two of us from Marin, one from SF. Sixty came on a bus from Sonoma and Santa Cruz had a van-full. People came up from southern CA and it is a longer distance for them, and yet, they are under the greatest threat. Senator Christine Kehoe, who represents the San Diego area was great and received a well-deserved reward for her work last night. One man was from the Crescent City area. He couldn't stop talking about the recession there. He had culture-shock because we were smiling and looked happy and our cars weren't banged up and we were eating in restaurants. What is going on in this country?
Back to CA. There are a good many battles. Christine Kehoe has been involved in the San Onofre State Beach toll road, PGE wanting to waltz 23 miles power lines through Anza-Borrego park instead of around it, and the Bushie fence between the US and Mexico, which would destroy sensitive natural land around Chula Vista, and stop the migration of animals.
I sigh. The problems are so vast and yet what was very clear is that our governor is not governing. When one has money problems, they don't do a blanket across the board cut which is what he has done. The parks have already been decimated. They lost over 500 positions in the mid-90's, and another 90 in 2000. More than $4.00 used to be spent on every visitor to a state park. Now, it is less than $2.00. In addition, the parks bring in revenue. I misquoted yesterday. This is the accurate statement. For every dollar spent in a state park, $2.35 comes back to the local economy which means revenue for the state.
The problem is this. Under Clinton, 98% of our tax dollars were returned to our state. Under Bush, and now I rumble through my notes for the figure and can't find it, but I think it is around 79% is returned to the state. Therein, the problem and why is no one protesting that.
Another problem which the many volunteers pointed out is that park workers can retire at 50 or 52. They then go on to another career, while getting a monthly paycheck. The problem of pensions is huge in this country. We see that with the military too.
Volunteers are currently carrying our parks. There has been a bill that meant it was fine volunteers were not paid, but that is going to expire in 2009. There are two bills to deal with that problem. One is by Ashburn, a Republican, and will eliminate the issue forever. The other is by a Democrat, Furatani, and would allow volunteers to work in the parks unpaid for three years, and then the issue will be reviewed again. Why, you most likely ask, wouldn't we just eliminate the problem? Because of the unions, and the Democrats are supported by the unions, so they voted against Ashburn's bill. That was the boo I gave the Democrats yesterday. There is a place to get along. Is this not the most ridiculous thing? What is the definition of a volunteer? Duh!
Of course, the Democrats feel that the yacht tax give-away where the yacht is moved to Oregon for three months which eliminates the tax, could help save the parks. Boo on the Republicans. No wonder I am so tired, and my head feels so cluttered. I want to go back to bed.
I was one of the few people there as an individual. It says something about how little people are involved when the jaws of those I spoke with literally dropped when I said I was there because I care, and that I care about all the parks, not just my own, and that I paid my own way. Our legislators are battered by lobbyists, even for the parks, and seemed overwhelmed. We dealt with staff as it seems our legislators don't really know what is going on as well as their staff. It is all too much. It is sobering.
Big breath. I met with Rosanna who stood in for Carole Midgen. There were two people from Marin there, and one from SF so we were a mighty force of three. Carole Midgen supports the parks, and as everyone knows has some personal issues and will not return. We met with Mercedes, the representative for Tony Mendoza, from LA. She is a kick and we lounged in his office since he, also, was away. Next, we met with Nate Solov who represents Jared Huffman, who is great, and as environmentally active as anyone can want. He is my representative and I am pleased with him, and I hear how tough the battle.
We had a rally on the capitol steps for two hours yesterday with wonderful, inspiring speeches on what our parks mean to CA. They bring in tourists. They nurture our souls, and they are the second largest educational tool in CA after schools. They are talking of closing down the Benicia state capital park. We don't have much history in CA. We need to honor what we have. Benicia was our capital for a year.
Anyway, the issue is complex, and if we just did something about the prisons, there would be enough money, but it seems that issue is not to be touched. They kept saying the pie is between parks, schools, and health care. Why, again, one might ask, but our purpose was to point out the obvious fires of the moment, and to point out that our legislators and the governor are paid to solve the problems of the state. What are they doing? A ten percent cut across the board is not prioritizing the issues and looking for solutions.
There were four speakers yesterday, all of whom will probably be running for governor. I only heard the last two because I needed a break to eat, but they were both excellent. I recommend Bill Lockyer absolutely. He is strong, for the environment, and keeping strong tabs on Citibank. He is what we want. Jack O'Connell also seems strong.
This is what seems so hard. There are good people, dedicated, well-informed people and what a quagmire to wade through. We elect a governor to govern, to lead, to make decisions. We don't have a governor or a president right now.
Also, term limits have hurt the parks. It doesn't give the legislators the time to really feel the power that the state park system brings to the state. This land is our land, bought by those ahead of us to ensure our history is preserved. We need to honor what is here. There were parades of school children through the capitol yesterday. It was great to see.
Also, the capitol grounds are lovely. There was a dogwood that was astonishing, lovely white blooms. Oranges hung in abundance from the trees. There are statues and memorials, and yet, the lobbyists are bogging the system down. One person did say that every email is counted, as well as every letter and phone call. They say we are heard, but they seems so harried, and we need them to focus on what really matters, and sort through all the distractions. Even as I type those words, my head begins to clear. Sort through the distractions and focus on, as Angeles Arrien says, "what has heart and meaning."
What has heart and meaning - flowers, birds, trees, people who gather to save all these.