Parks for the People: A Look into This Year’s Parks Bond

With the deadline to introduce bills come and gone, we now have a better idea of our key legislative priorities for 2017. Out of 2,615 bills introduced by the recent deadline, SBC has targeted approximately 45 for further research and tracking. We will act on a subset of those once we see how each bill shapes up throughout the session.

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As predicted at the end of last session, there are a few top priority issues that carried over from 2016, including, most notably, the parks bond and extension of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reduction cap-and-trade program. Other carryover issues include clean energy, forestry, agricultural conservation, and wildfire, to name a few. There are some new issues on tap for 2017, as well, including addressing our new-found overabundance of water (through flood protection and dam/infrastructure repair) and ensuring protections for scientific data, public health, public lands, and the environment in light of policy changes that may take place at the federal level.

Parks for the People!

You may remember the fate of last year’s parks bond, AB 2444, a $3.5 billion measure to finance parks and other activities related to water, climate, coastal protection and outdoor access – it made it through all Assembly and Senate committees but then got stalled on the Senate floor. One potential reason for the delay – as heard through the grapevine – may have been the Governor’s reticence to support anything that would increase statewide debt. 

Well, Assemblymember Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella) believes very strongly in the need for more parks and recreation opportunities across all regions of the state, so he (re)introduced a parks bond, AB 18, for this session. The new bill is very similar to the last one, with funding for deferred park maintenance, as well as programs supporting new parks, trails and greenways, rural open space and recreation opportunities, conservancies as service delivery mechanisms (including Sierra Nevada and Tahoe), habitat corridor protection, forest restoration, agricultural land protection, and Native American cultural restoration, among others. AB 18 passed the Assembly this week and now moves to the Senate to determine whether it will be included on the 2018 ballot.

Although we’d like to see more funding for forest restoration and conservancies in our region, we support the overall bond package, and here’s why:

  • First… 82% of Californians have said they consider outdoor recreation as important or very important to their daily lives. And I’m one of them! Also, most say they prefer activities that don’t cost much – like walking, driving for pleasure, picnicking, or general nature studies – all opportunities that neighborhood and community parks and open space areas provide.
  • Second… and closer to home for SBC… in many rural forested areas, recreation and tourism contribute more to the local economy than even commodity production. Studies have pegged the economic value of Sierra tourism in the billions a year, and travel-related employment in some rural areas is twice the national average. So one way to help economically disadvantaged rural communities is to invest in protection and expansion of these critical parks and outdoor recreation opportunities. To see more about SBC’s support of tourism and recreation, check out our Sierra Nevada Geotourism and Lake Tahoe Water Trail projects.  
  • And finally… the forested areas of the state contain features like water, recreation, species habitat, timber, and more, whose value extends well beyond the surrounding local communities. Services like these – and the ability to use healthy Sierra forests to store carbon and address other climate goals – are opportunities that the entire state relies on. So, investing in recreational facilities, improving forest and watershed health, reducing the risk of damaging wildfire, and offering alternatives for energy production through biomass are critical not just to our rural communities, but to the state as a whole. To see more about how SBC is working to connect the Sierra with the downstream communities that rely on its resources, visit our Sierra CAMP website.  

We are at the very beginning of a two-year legislative session, so much will change. For instance, a companion bill to AB 18, SB 5, has begun making its way through the legislative process and is, at this time, also supported by SBC. However the bills shake out, support of a parks bond and continued work on reducing climate impacts and helping our region better adapt to the changes that are happening will surely keep us busy for the remainder of 2017. We hope you’ll join us along the way! 

Click here to view Kerri’s testimony at the February Parks Bond Hearing.