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California's parks system in need of major revamp, commission finds

by Mike Roe with A Martínez | Take Two®

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Coastal Redwood trees stand at Muir Woods National Monument on August 20, 2013 in Mill Valley, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

California's parks system is in need of a revamp. Years of struggling with budgets and poor administration has left the system in a crisis. That's according to the Parks Forward Commission which just released its preliminary findings. Among some of the major findings is the need to modernize the system and develop more stable funding — through new taxes or fees.

The commission's draft plan, released this week, lists a wide range of problems the state's parks face.

"Declining budgets have led to scaled‐back services, shorter hours, and higher fees. A long list of maintenance needs ranges from broken toilets and dilapidated structures to crumbling roads. Outdated administrative systems, technology, and processes impede park staff’s ability to effectively manage and protect parks’ natural and cultural resources," the commission states in the plan's introduction.

The plan was created by the Parks Forward Commission and was developed over the past year, coming out of the California State Parks Stewardship Act and Assembly Bill 1478. The plan says the commission reached two overall findings:

"First, today’s State Park System is debilitated by outdated organizational structures, technologies, and business tools, and by a culture that does not adequately reward excellence or innovation. Second, the system does not provide a park experience that serves all Californians or attracts other potential visitors."

A sign of that need for modernization, noted by Capital Public Radio's Ben Adler: "Paper time cards. That’s all you need to know about California’s state parks system: Employees still use paper time cards."

The plan includes changes to the California Department of Parks and Recreation's management, their administration and their technology in order to implement a new structure for the organization and a new business model. The commission says that changes need to be made in their hiring and promotion as well, such as allowing non-law enforcement to apply for leadership positions.

"The California Department of Parks and Recreation’s organizational structure creates barriers to hiring and promoting diverse staff with a broad range of expertise and makes it difficult for leadership to instill a culture of creativity and entrepreneurship," the commission states.

"Budgets, administration, training – all the things that a good dynamic organization has, that they have kind of been on hold at this department for the last 15 years," commission executive director Ken Wiseman tells Capital Public Radio. "That needs to be modernized."

The commission recommends that the plan implemented with a two-year plan giving a team the power to make changes. Another key aspect of the plan is creating what the commission sees as a more stable funding structure for the parks through taxes and increased efficiency and accountability within the Parks Department.

The plan also suggests expanding diversity outreach, including upgrading the parks to make them more friendly to more visitors, as well as building partnerships with other organizations to promote the parks.

A public meeting is being held to discuss the plan on Aug. 6 in San Diego, with the final plan scheduled to be released in November, ahead of the governor's January budget proposal.

Read the full draft report below:

Draft plan

Listen to "Take Two" for more with Parks Forward Commission executive director Ken Wiseman.

This story has been updated.

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