Nonprofits Edge Closer to Managing California’s State Parks

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September 1, 2011; Source: KPCC – Southern California Public RadioOn Wednesday, the California state senate approved AB42, a bill that is designed to give nonprofits the power to manage some of the state’s parks via new operating agreements. The purpose of the legislation, designed by Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D–San Rafael), is to minimize the effects of the projected closure of 70 of 278 parks next year as a result of the state’s budget shortfall. According to KPCC radio, the bill has “widespread support” from Republicans and Democrats and is now slated to return for a final vote in the state Assembly. It will then need approval by Governor Jerry Brown.

Explaining the theory underlying the bill, Huffman told KPCC, “This may save a dozen—potentially more—parks from closure where there’s a nonprofit group that could step up and enter into an operating agreement to keep things going.”

Because this is an unprecedented initiative within the state, some logistical questions are already arising among parks supporters, both paid and volunteer, regarding the transfer of authority. Reporting on the legislation earlier this week, the Union, a newspaper based in Grass Valley, interviewed Glenn Fuller, a volunteer with the nonprofit member-based South Yuba River Park Association. Fuller expressed uncertainty about how his responsibilities and those of his volunteer colleagues might change. “If we’re talking about giving tours, going down and opening up the visitor’s center and leading walks on Buttermilk Bend, I think we can do that,” he told the Union. “But if you’re talking about cleaning out restrooms and closing and opening gates, that’s going to take a bigger commitment and more people.” Referring to the full scope of the potential added responsibilities for nonprofits, including law enforcement, fundraising, and facilities management, Fuller said, “That’s an awful lot to ask from volunteers.”

Providing a broader perspective on the issue, Alden Olmsted, a parks advocate who is raising money to support the parks in honor of his late father John Olmsted, told the Union, “[The bill] makes what’s already happening now a little bit more official.” However, Olmsted noted that it does not provide additional support to groups that don’t already have volunteers involved in these operations.—Anne Eigeman