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California can't take care of its state parks.  For anyone who missed last week's Healthy Minds & Bodies diary, or elsewhere in state news, our Governator is threatening to close 80% of our state parks to make up 0.5% of our budget deficit, never mind the many economic, environmental, and public safety reasons why it's wrong.  

We're taking the usual action.  If you haven't already signed the California State Parks Foundation petition, please do so now -- State Senate leader Steinberg reports today that the parks are on the bubble.  However, sometimes drastic times call for drastic measures, like the one below.

Here's a drastic solution: Take the power to close the parks away from him.  President Obama has the power to declare national monuments.  What would happen if 51% of our state legislature asked Obama to declare a Lake Tahoe National Monument?  National monuments in the Malibu Creek/Topanga watersheds, Big Sur, or Anza Borrego?  Sometimes, but not always, national monuments become national parks (e.g., Grand Canyon, Olympic, and Zion NPs).  Sometimes, places that started out as state parks became national parks (Yosemite).  

Legal background on national monuments:
One difference between national parks and national monuments is that the first must be created by Congress, usually after years of foot-dragging and wrangling, while the second can be declared by the President with one stroke of the pen.  The Antiquities Act of 1906, originally designed to protect Native American and other artifacts from pot hunters, gives the President the power to protect certain public lands as parks and conservation areas.  Immediately upon its passage, Theodore Roosevelt created Devils Tower NM in Wyoming because he felt that Congress was moving too slowly in protecting it; despite the "pot hunter" intent of the law, it's been used broadly since its passage in 1906.  The Act also gives the President the power to reserve or accept private lands for the same purpose.  

Political background on national monuments:
Sometimes the people of a state don't appreciate Presidential proclamations. Wyoming residents revolted when FDR created Jackson Hole National Monument in 1943 -- which became Grand Teton National Park in 1950.  Alaskan residents revolted when President Carter set aside 56M acres of Alaskan land to become 17 national monuments.  Both revolts led to laws prohibiting Presidents from creating more national monuments without Congressional approval in WY and AK.  Most recently, President Clinton enraged Utah residents when he declared the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in 1996; federal and Kane County, Utah officials are still bickering over who has the right to use which roads.  

California already has at least two federal-state precedents, and the Tahoe Basin has its own unique California-Nevada interstate governmental agency.

Redwoods National and State Parks contains both (duh) national and state parks.  Three relatively small state parks -- Jedediah Smith, Prairie Creek, and Del Norte Coast -- were established in the 1920s.  The national park bill was passed in 1968.  In 1994, the NPS and California Department of Parks and Recreation agreed to jointly manage the park(s).  Currently, the state runs all of the campgrounds; however, all three state parks are on Schwarzenegger's list of parks to be closed, and I don't know whether the NPS would operate them or let them stay closed.  

Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area is a patchwork quilt of federal, state, county, and private lands.  Again, two state parks -- Malibu Creek State Park and Leo Carrillo -- are the only two places where camping is permitted, and both are slated to be closed by Schwarzenegger.

This plan requires action by 51% of the California Legislature first, and President Obama second. It's not a new tax, so it wouldn't require a single Jarvis-worshiping Republican legislator to vote for it.  The way I envision it, the Legislature considers and, if necessary, passes a bill asking Obama to proclaim national monuments; Obama, anxious to improve his standing with environmentalists, agrees; and we all go waltzing into the sunset on our free ponies.  There will be some political fallout.  However, Californians like Obama a lot more than Alaskans liked Carter in 1980, or Utahans liked Clinton in 1996.

Even mentioning this idea may save the parks:
First, to state the obvious, the plan -- if it got that far -- would protect many great parts of California.  I've mentioned Tahoe, Big Sur, and the Malibu Creek/Topanga Creek watershed areas because all are already significantly protected, and there's little if any question of intruding on existing private property rights.  Anza Borrego, a national-park-sized state park, is another likely candidate.  

Second, even mentioning this plan would call Schwarzenegger's bluff.  Many California budget observers suspect that Schwarzenegger is playing political chicken -- proposing cuts to the most popular and well used programs to dramatize the need for drastic cuts -- and doesn't necessarily sincerely intend to close the parks.  If he's playing politics, then let's play politics too, and press the California legislature to take away his power over the state parks.

Schwarzenegger may not be playing chicken with the state.  Some people still believe that he's a dedicated public servant who's sincerely trying to deal with a very difficult budget crisis (raise your hands, both of you).  Others have raised a pernicious possibility: he intends to let the parks fall into disrepair, then sell them: cronies, developers, and energy companies can all benefit from huge swaths of sensitive land being opened up.  If that's true -- and, frankly, that scheme would require more long range planning and cynicism than I've seen from Arnold -- all the more reason to protect the best parts of our state.

This idea may fly in other states with budget crises.  As Pennsylvania resident Rossl put it: They'll take my PA state parks from my cold, dead hands. New York state parks are being threatened.  Other states may be considering the same, especially if it "works" in California.

Naysayers may point out two downsides.  First, transferring control of state lands to the federal government may not be politically attractive.  However, this is only being proposed as a drastic solution for states at the end of their economic ropes.  Second, this plan transfers the cost of running the state park/national monument from a state government to the federal government, and thus probably contributes toward the federal deficit.  However, perhaps costs of public goods such as state parks are better borne by the federal government, which can run a deficit, than one of the 50 Little Hoovers.  Finally, there may a legal downside attached to a specific piece of land, such as a donor's trust providing that "the state can keep the land only if it's run by the state as a state park"; in response, please note that a creative federal/state partnership may be possible.  

Closing revenue-generators is a horrible idea, as Calitics writer/Kossack Eugene (using his other name) has recently noted.  However, it may happen whether we like it or not, so we need a Plan B.  Is this a feasible Plan B?  And if not, what's the next step?  Kossacks, what say you?  

Originally posted to RLMiller on Tue Jun 09, 2009 at 04:59 PM PDT.

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