Thursday, March 26, 2009

Trip Report: Park Advocacy Day in Sacramento

People at work think I'm a really sick puppy since I spend my well deserved vacation time to wear a suit so that I can attend meetings with politicians. Somewhere along the way I got lost. Where is that guy who would go snowboarding in Whistler or Tahoe? The guy who would go to Utah or Colorado to go mountain biking? What happened to that guy and when did this political junkie replace him?

I attended Park Advocacy Day (PAD) in Sacramento on Monday. This is a way to engage State Assembly members and Senators to support California State Parks. It was a really intense but fulfilling experience. I think we made a lot of progress and got our message of supporting Parks across. There were about 20 of us from Santa Cruz so I joined a group of advocates who focused on districts in Southern California. I was pretty fresh from my Washington, DC week of bike advocacy so I was definitely a seasoned pro speaking with politicians. I also look pretty suave in an Italian suit ;-)

Our basic themes were:

1. Development threats to State Parks. I'm not sure how applicable they are to this district but Parks in Southern California are regarded as fair game when infrastructure or utilities need land to be built. The basic message is that Parks resources are not "the path of least resistance" when it comes to finding land for infrastructure. There were a couple of Senate bills which increase park protection.

2. Mitigating the impacts from the bond freeze. While restarting the freeze would be good there were a couple of bills that we were asked support to mitigate the negative impacts from the freeze. Chet gave me an anecdote that bond freeze may require dropping a couple of scheduled maintenance projects that I used to relate this issue to my local district.

3. Role of State Parks in the Federal economic stimulus. We asked for a portion of the discretionary portion of the stimulus funding to be directed towards the $1.2B maintenance backlog of "shovel ready" maintenance projects within State Parks. If you have a list of projects in the local district then I would be happy to follow up on this ask.

The most interesting anecdote that happened was that I was talking with Assembly member Mary Salas and she picked up that I was from Santa Cruz. She insisted that I speak with former Assembly member John Laird and thank him for the work he did on waste issue in her district. I mentioned that I will mentioned it the next time I spoke with him feeling that this will be an unfulfilled promise. About 15 minutes later I saw John Laird and thanked him on Mary's behalf. I had a great conversation with him and I he is still very much engaged in solving problems. Great man.

The second most interesting anecdote is that I finally met Mike Vandeman. The Santa Cruz park advocates knew I was a also a mountain bike advocate so when this extremist was spewing hatred about mountain bikes they directed him to talk with me. I didn't know it was Mike but after about 5 minutes he started to call me a liar and I realized that I read this script before. He also didn't accept the fact that hiking boots or horses cause any impact to the trails so I knew it was Mike. I was having a very civil discourse with him but I also realized that I was getting nowhere (and neither was he) so our conversation was futile. I thanked him for his support of California State Parks and left him.

I attended Park Advocacy Day as a favor to our District Superintendent who encouraged me to go. I was waffling since I had recently returned from DC. However, I was really interested to learn more about State government. I learned more than I wanted to know about the California
budget crisis and I have to try hard to stop myself from wanting to be an advocate for fiscal responsibility and budget reform. Perhaps I'll take on this cause once we get wicked, sweet (and legal) mountain bike trails in Santa Cruz County.

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