Co-Chair to Lead Calif. State Parks Commission
Former State Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego has been tapped to help chart a new direction for California’s troubled state parks system.
The 12-member Parks Forward Commission she will co-lead has a daunting task: Develop a plan designed to restore credibility, provide a firm financial footing, and make $1.3 billion worth of overdue repairs.
Recommendations are due in the next 18 months, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.
“While the amount of funding is going down, the responsibilities and the services we want to provide are increasing. We want to turn that around,” Kehoe, a Democrat, said in an interview.
It was announced Monday (Aug. 5) that Kehoe will be the co-chair of the commission along with Lance Conn, a San Francisco Bay Area businessman with past ties to Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and AOL. Commission members will not receive a salary.
Kehoe’s appointment gives San Diego County two influential voices in the future of state parks. In late 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown tapped retired Marine Maj. Gen. Anthony Jackson of Fallbrook as director of the Department of State Parks and Recreation.
Jackson is widely credited with helping restore faith in parks after a series of startling revelations over misuse of funds and hiding surplus dollars even as former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moved to close 70 parks due to budget shortfalls.
California operates 280 parks, drawing about 70 million visitors a year. The department runs on slightly less than $500 million in general fund revenues — a 37% drop from the amount allocated five years ago, Kehoe said.
Kehoe said one of the commission’s charges is to see if more safeguards are needed for the parks budget.
“There will be a lot of attention paid to accountability,” Kehoe said.
More broadly, she said the commission will look at ways to provide stable operations funding for the system’s diverse collection of beaches, forests and cultural sites, from Old Town San Diego to Año Nuevo’s sanctuary for elephant seals.
Kehoe said the commission is open to more partnerships with nonprofit groups “if that can be done in a good way.” She also supports looking at endowments.
Kehoe also wants to ensure that parks are protected in rural areas where they are “one of the few economic engines” drawing tourist dollars.
As far as new fees or taxes, Kehoe said that discussion is premature.
The commission plans a series of public meetings over the coming months.
“I want to hear what Californians have to say and what they want to see at their parks,” she said. “I don’t want to jump to conclusions.”
Resources Secretary John Laird, in announcing Kehoes’s selection along with the other members, said, “Sen. Kehoe brings decades of high-level public policy leadership on a host of environmental and good-government issues, including the unique challenges facing our parks.”
While in the Senate, Kehoe worked on a variety of parks-related issues, as well as other environmental programs. One of her signature bills created the San Diego River Conservancy.
Kehoe was termed out of the Senate last year after serving eight years. She is currently the executive director of the California Plug-in Vehicle Collaborative, which promotes all-electric cars.