California Voters Reject Park Salvation Plan
California voters on Tuesday (Nov. 2) overwhelmingly rejected a measure to pay for California's chronically underfunded state park system by instituting an $18 vehicle license fee, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Proposition 21 would have raised $500 million a year to pay for operating, maintaining and repairing the state's 278 parks. In exchange, California motorists would have gotten free admission to their favorite state-owned scenic wonders, historic monuments and beaches.
Everyone agrees the state park system, which supporters call the jewel of California, needs gussying up, but the question before voters was whether California motorists should pay the price.
The $18 would have been tacked on to the fee motorists pay to register their vehicles.
But most people didn't like the idea of removing park funding from the state's general fund or sloughing the cost off on voters. Critics said the initiative amounted to ballot-box budgeting – a practice that has been blamed for exacerbating the state's fiscal woes.
The most vocal opponents were anti-tax crusaders who characterized Prop. 21 as a cynical ploy by Sacramento politicians to implement a car tax and enable wasteful government spending.
California has more state parks than any other state. They cover 1.4 million acres, including 280 miles of coastline and 625 miles of lake and riverfront. About 70 million people visit the state parks annually. That compares with about 16 million who visit Disneyland each year.
But there hasn't been enough money available in the state's general fund to provide many of the park services that visitors often expect, such as maintained trails, working bathrooms and rangers. Huge budget deficits over the past two years forced partial closures in 60 parks and deep service reductions in 90 others, including Angel Island, Mount Diablo and China Camp state parks.
Of the 278 parks in the state, 150 have been affected in one way or another by budget cuts, including reductions in the number of lifeguards and janitors. Restrooms, campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots and beaches have been closed.
That's on top of the $1.3 billion in maintenance projects that were already backlogged before the state budget crisis, park officials said.
The California State Parks Foundation led a coalition of environmental and conservation groups that gathered 760,000 signatures to put Prop. 21 on the ballot. The initiative would have added the cost of a single professional car wash onto the vehicle license fee for motorcycles, cars and recreational vehicles, but not larger commercial vehicles, mobile homes or permanent trailers. In exchange, those vehicles would have gotten free admission to all state parks.
Out-of-state vehicles would still have paid entrance fees, which are as much as $125 for an annual pass or between $10 and $15 a day at most parks.
Eighty-five percent of the money would have been spent on parks. The remaining 15% was going to be used by the state for land management, to operate marine reserves, and to support wildlife conservancies. An annual audit would have been conducted by a citizens' oversight committee that would release the results to the public.