What the philanthropic community needs to know to support our state parks

 In Environment, Philanthropy, Public Lands
China Camp State Park north of San Francisco, slated for closure

China Camp State Park, slated for closure

A Philanthropic Perspective on the Parks Crisis

With the California State Parks system in crisis, some hope that people with wealth will extend a lifeline to the state parks they treasure.

Yesterday morning a leader from one of the largest foundations in the country shared some insights from the philanthropic community. Thomas Peters, President of the Marin Community Foundation, gave testimony to joint committees of the California State Assembly during a tension-filled hearing on the topic of state park closures.

“I have never seen an issue that has galvanized such intense emotion – and will – to find a solution.

The Chronicle of Philanthropy recently named the Marin Community Foundation as one of the nation’s top 400 charities for raising money. In 2010, they raised $43.7 million dollars. The foundation manages and advises the funds for over 400 families. In the philanthropic world, these are called donor-advised funds. Private donors with the Marin Community Foundation support causes in Marin County as well as in other parts of the U.S. and around the world.

In his testimony on Nov. 1, Dr. Peters said that a number of the families with funds at the Marin Community Foundation are concerned about the parks. For families to step up and become involved, he told lawmakers what philanthropists will need from the state:

  • A clear understanding of the financial picture for each park. What are the expenses and the revenues for each park?
  • Assurances from the state that their funds will be dedicated to supporting their specific wishes. How will families know that the state will have reasonable and accurate accounting procedures?
  • A clear commitment to mission and professionalism. Will the parks department be able to show their dedication to preserving the legacy of our parks system? Will parks they support be operated and maintained with a high level of professionalism?

Park Advocates, Law Enforcement, Community Stakeholders Offer Testimony

Dr. Peters of the Marin Community Foundation was one of several presenters who advocated for ways to save our parks in Sacramento. (He also recently co-authored “Finding permanent solutions for parks” in the Marin Independent Journal.) Other presenters included Elizabeth Goldstein of the California State Parks Foundation, Caryl Hart of Sonoma County Parks and the California Parks and Recreation Commission, Ruskin Hartley of the Save the Redwoods League, Sonoma County Sheriff Steve Freitas, Nina Gordon of the California State Parks Rangers Association, Geoff McQuilkin of the Mono Lake Committee and Kathy Bailey of the Anderson Valley Chamber of Commerce.

Several other park advocates traveled to Sacramento to share public testimony, but the hearing ran out of time before everyone there reached the front of the line.

Lawmakers Extremely Dissatisfied with Parks Department Process

The problem-solving part of the hearing came after close to two hours of contentious questioning directed to the California parks department by Assemblymember Jared Huffman, Assemblymember Roger Dickinson and other lawmakers. Deputy Director Bill Herms and Anne Malcolm, legal counsel, defended the parks department for close to two hours. They could not offer data or other documentation to lawmakers or the public on the process the parks department followed to cut $22 million in spending by July 2012.

Blog series
This is the ninth article in a series on threats to California State Parks and the search for sustainable funding.

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