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.

Trip Report: Washington, DC National Bike Summit

A couple of weeks ago, I went to Washington, DC as part of the National Bike Summit. I was a California mountain bike delegate and advocated on behalf of issues which help mountain biking and bicycle transportation.

My experience in Washington was intense and positive. This was the 9th year of the bike summit and attendance was a record breaking 550 delegates from 47 states (including 60+ mtb advocates) - which is great in this recessionary economy. I think the high attendance was attributed to the general optimism of the Obama administration and that we would have a government who are sympathetic to cycling issues. It was a pretty wired conference and summit. We twittered a lot.

I met with Anna Eschoo (CA-14) and Sam Farr's (C-17) legislative assistant and central coast representatives are friendly towards cycling issues. They are also supporters of Wilderness bills so we have some work to ensure that we achieve the goals of land protection without removing recreational opportunities for mountain bikes. The other mtb related issue we had was to ask to renew the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) to $550M over 5 years (this is part of the transportation bill). The RTP is an important program which will fund trail projects at Coast Dairies - which will be an important place for the future of mountain biking in Santa Cruz County.

This is the second time I have attended the national bike summit and I felt better prepared this time. I had a couple of local asks (support for the rail trail and a BLM trail head project at Fort Ord). I have been following up on these issues since I got back home.

Socially, I managed to hang our with the communications director of the Evergreen Mountain bike alliance based in Seattle. These are the folks that developed and built the Colannade
urban bike park (under the I-5) to Seattle. I also had dinner and drinks with the Hawaiian delegation one evening. It was very cool to hang out with politically minded bike geeks. It great to learn what works and lessons learned in getting more mountain bike trails/resources in other parts of the country. Good stuff. I am doing my best to put this knowledge to work in raising the profile and resources for mountain biking in Santa Cruz County.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mountain Bike Trails in Santa Cruz State Parks are a Priority

I had a great conversation with Karl Tallman - the interim Sector Superintendent which covers Big Basin, Fall Creek and Henry Cowell. Most of the discussion focused on a letter that I would later receive that acted as a response to our open dialog request.

I just want to say that our conversation was really positive. If you read no further I would just like to mention the major outcome: the number one priority of the permanent sector superintendent is to create more trail opportunities for mountain bikes. Let me repeat that: THE NUMBER ONE PRIORITY OF THE MOUNTAIN SECTOR IS TO CREATE MORE MOUNTAIN BIKE TRAILS. We have started this process and there will be meetings and follow up.

This is a huge concession to the mountain biking community and the recognition that mountain biking has been increasing throughout the parks. This is not going to be a quick or easy process and be prepared for setbacks and push back from other community members. However, there is definitely a new level of reaching out to the mountain biking community from our State Parks District so future access looks positive.

Our District State Parks has been filling their vacant positions recently and they have a new trail and roads co-ordinator, an environmental scientist and a couple of part time resource ecologists. You also know that they have filled all their vacant Ranger positions and are actively seeking a maintenance chief. Most importantly, they are actively looking for a permanent Sector Superintendent and they anticipate that the position will be filled sometime in April. These are the people we will be working with in order to create more legitimate riding opportunities.

What they don’t have is funding and the mountain biking community can help make up for that shortfall with donations, labor and trail design and building expertise. The local riders and bike industry should partner with our land managers to create a legitimate network of trails throughout the county.

We are looking at a very bright future for mountain biking in Santa Cruz County. The BLM Coast Dairies properties and our local state parks have land managers who are friendly to mountain biking. There has been some great work by Jesse Nickel with the jump/skills community. The local bike industry is world renowned. The Amgen Tour of California has shown the City, Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce that cycling and events is a huge economic opportunity and are looking for ways to capitalize on it. It’s a good time to be a cyclist in Santa Cruz County.

And now for a plea...

A large part of the reason we got such generous concessions from our District State Parks is because you have supported the efforts of MBOSC. I’m just the tip of the arrow who can poke the beast but you are the wood behind the arrow to help me fully penetrate the belly of the beast. I speak for all of you and when we have more representation then we become a much higher priority for our local land managers.

If you are not current member of MBOSC then I ask that you join. We would like to make a donation to IMBA California - who has been instrumental in gaining these concessions - and we would like to fund future bike related projects in the Santa Cruz area.

In the past month or so since the UC/9 enforcement program started I have received many messages of support and we have many new memberships. I would like to thank all of you for keeping me motivated and fighting for your right to ride. Mountain bike advocacy is a frustrating and lonely job but I am proud to represent all of you and you have inspired me to work for the rights of mountain bikers in Santa Cruz County.

Thanks again for your support.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Our Open Dialog Request with our District State Parks

I had a conversation with the District Superintendent Chet Bardo for the Santa Cruz area State Parks to follow up on the open dialog request that we submitted to him and his two superiors. We made a request for an open dialog between Chet and the mountain biking community so that he can hear our concerns for additional access. The objective of the open dialog was to see movement on our existing proposals. This letter was really effective in getting his attention and he gladly took my call. We had an amiable conversation for about an hour.

The bottom line was that Chet said NO to an open dialog. However, I’m pleased to announce that we have achieved our objective without having to rent a space and rally a critical mass of 100-200 mountain bikers. Chet has agreed to move forward with some of our existing proposals to open new trails to mountain bikers. The letter accomplished two things:

1. He finally read and is currently responding to our trail conversion request. He has asked the Mountain Sector Superintendent to contact me (more later).

2. He actually pulled and read the Gray Whale file. The issues are complicated but he has a broad understanding of the issues associated with opening the trails on Gray Whale.

There were a lot of constructive discussion points and most of them sounded favorable to mountain biking (given his audience) but there are three specific points that he wanted to make to the mountain biking community:

1. Chet is one of our better recreation advocates within this State Parks District in many, many years. I agree and so other bike advocates who have worked with Chet while he was at previous position. He seemed slighted from the letter and he took it personally that the tone of the letter implies that this district is unsympathetic to mountain biking - which was true under previous District Superintendents.

2. His number one priority is to keep the park operations functioning. Very challenging in this economic climate so don’t expect quick progress.

3. There are a lot of new people in the district and there has been some promotions. There is a great opportunity to create positive working relationships with the staff. The new staff is going to try different ways to manage the properties. Enforcement is one such action (as we are all aware).

Some other points which were made:

The Big Basin general plan is starting up again. Mountain bikers should be engaged in this process to ensure that we are not excluded from the property and we may be able to make inroads on future trails and re-designations of existing trails.

Chet belongs to a group of local park professionals (Mid-Pen, POST, etc...) who regularly hold “what have you got” meetings and try to pool resources and strategies. They all agree that multi-use trails should be used to connect adjoining properties.

He thinks that mountain bikers are going to be important allies and recognizes the importance of the mountain biking community.

I will be working with the Sector Super to find common ground, look at the role of mountain biking and see what projects he is willing to staff which will be beneficial to mountain bikers. I will be discussing the existing enforcement program, converting limited use trails to multi-use (as per our proposal) and get an understanding of the status of trail reclamation.

This is good news. A little bit of progress.

Status of Coast Dairies

Recently, I had a conversation with the Field Manager for the BLM office in Holister. This office is responsible for the management of the Fort Ord properties (Sea Otter back country) and Coast Dairies. The Coast Dairies property is going to play an important role in the future of Santa Cruz mountain biking. The BLM is open minded to events and are willing to create the challenging, sustainable trails that mountain bikers enjoy. The BLM has a great partnership with mountain bikers across the nation.

The objective of my call was to get the status of the Coast Dairies conveyance and see how I can help him out when I visit our congressional representatives in Washington, DC this week (more in a separate message). Here is what I found out:

  • Many of the “hard” issues have been resolved like the CEMEX land swap and lot line adjustment. The only thing pending is to do the title process and other minutiae of doing a large real estate transation. He mentioned that he has a full time title lawyer working on this.
  • Conveyance is as far along as it ever has. All previous obstacles to land transfer has been addressed.
  • The “ball is in the court of the Trust for Public Land (TPL)” - who are the current land holders. Just a question of focus and resources. Due diligence needs to be done like title exception and the easement language is in place.
  • BLM has some funds for managing the property after conveyance. They are already drafting trail and recreation plans.
  • There are some concerns from local conversationalists about the BLM’s intentions with this land. The BLM has a national reputation of resource exploitation on the lands they manage and articles such as this one contribute to the suspicion. The local BLM has the same conservation values as other local land agencies and the Field Manager is sincere in honoring the existing deed restrictions.
  • When conveyance takes place the BLM can tap into the Recreational Trails Program (RTP) to get funding for trails and trail head improvements. We are well situated to utilize these programs since the BLM Trail and Recreation Planner has had RTP grants training and MBOSC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit who can partner with the BLM and provide volunteers for the work. This is the type of partnership in which the RTP grantors are looking for.
  • The BLM will not commit to a date when conveyance will occur. They have been burned way too many times in coming up with a date. I’m hoping/guessing that it will be within the year and we may be able to accelerate the process.
Now that we have a little more clarity, how can we move this process forward?

  • We should contact the TPL and ask them to move forward with the conveyance. It is in their best interests to absolve themselves of the ownership and management of this land. The TPL still has issues with moving the Ag lands to a trust but this doesn’t preclude the conveyance to BLM.
  • We should ask Congress to give Coast Dairies have an Outstanding Natural Area designation.  This designation ensures that the land is valued for a set of attributes like scenic, educational and recreational. This designation becomes the primary use and is the framework for any underlying plan. Arguably this restricts the flexibility of the land manager (and successive land managers) but it will mitigate the concerns of those who don’t trust the BLM to adhere to the deed restrictions.
  • In light of the CEMEX plant closure (starting Monday for 6 months... and beyond?), we should get the town of Davenport to buy into the idea of diversifying their economy by promoting the recreational and economic value of Coast Dairies.
  • We should follow up the BLM Trail and Recreation planner about the interim access plan and the draft of the trail plan. We should volunteer our input, resources and expertise.
The Coast Dairies property will be an amazing mountain bike destination with high marine terraces, a 700 acre second growth redwood forests and incredible ocean views. It will only become this reality though a lot of help and support from the community. Please contact me if you want to help out with this initiative.