California’s century-old state park system is the largest state park system in the world, covering 1.3 million acres, and receives more than 80 million visitors annually. The parks serve as much-needed areas for recreation activities, as outdoor classrooms and places of learning for students throughout the state, and as low-cost, popular vacation destinations for people of all economic means. California’s state parks are also vital to our state’s heritage. They provide habitat for thousands of species of plants and animals, many of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Although the system is envied for its commitment to preservation, recreation, wildlife, and historic and cultural values, California’s state parks are coming under increased development pressure for roads and other uses.
Maintaining the state parks is just one important component of California’s commitment to protecting its open spaces from development. The Williamson Act, enacted in 1965, is an important tool to allow landowners to resist development pressures. It allows land to stay in agricultural or open space use at low property tax rates based on its undeveloped use, while offsetting the property tax lost by local governments due to the lower valuation of the undeveloped land. And recent natural resources bond acts (Propositions, 40, 50, and 84) have included funds for the state to place conservation easements on valuable farmland and open space in order to protect the land from development.
Example of action to protect parks/open space: In 2008, Gov. Schwarzenegger signed AB 31 (de Leon) which allocates $400 million from Proposition 84 (the 2006 parks/resources bond) to build and expand neighborhood parks in the most park-poor communities throughout California.
Example of action that threatens parks/open space: In 2009, faced with an unprecedented state budget shortfall, Governor Schwarzenegger vowed to close approximately one-third of the state’s 297 parks. The proposal was widely viewed by environmental organizations as penny-wise and pound-foolish: According to the California State Parks Foundation, the General Fund budget for state parks is less than 1/10 of one percent of the entire state budget, and for every dollar that funds the parks, $2.35 is returned to the state's General Fund through economic activities in the communities surrounding the parks.