Verde Laguna: Mulling the propositions and the environment

Two weeks to go into to the election, on a rainy Sunday morning, I walked with a cup of coffee to a chair next to the window trying to make up my mind on three initiatives on the Nov. 2 ballot. I grabbed the travel section of the LA Times, when the "Crazy Beautiful" title and the pictures from Yosemite National Park caught my attention. "Before you begin, let me warn you about something, I am not objective about Yosemite. I can't be, my view has been shaped by more than 50 years of visits," Mark Boster wrote.

First I am going to talk about State Parks and Proposition 21, so let me tell you that my personal relationship with the parks is also shaped by countless visits, walks and love for these places.

There is a state park near my house that I walk every morning from Arch Beach Heights to Top of the World with my dog. No matter what season, it's always a delightful walk. I found myself enjoying a foggy morning, walking in the clouds, looking at the lights, and a festivity of colors that awakens all my senses and make me feel alive.

California's State Parks are priceless public assets. But today the parks are in peril because of lack of funding. In 2008 a total of 48 parks were proposed for closure, and last year 220 out of 278 state parks were on that list. Last-minute deals kept parks open, but even then 150 were shut down part time or suffered service reductions. With a $20 billion budget shortfall next year, more cutbacks are expected.

That's why we have on the ballot Proposition 21 that will give vehicles free admission to the state parks in exchange for an $18 vehicle license fee, which will be specifically dedicated to state parks and wildlife conservation. The surcharge will apply to all vehicles except commercial ones, mobile homes and permanent trailers. Ballot-box budgeting may not be the best policy, and for sure nobody wants more taxes. The question is if an $18 fee is not worth 1.5 million acres, which includes one third of our coastline open to the public.

With chronic underfunding the state parks have accumulated a backlog of more than $1 billion in maintenance and repair. It's true that there are many other issues such as education and health with no reliable sources of funding, too. But take into account before you cast your vote that the state parks receive every year nearly 80 million visitors; that parks contribute to public health, protecting sources of clean air and water; that the parks are also important for the economy, since visitors spend $4.3 billion annually in park-related expenditures. Visitors spend on average $57 in neighboring communities on each visit. Every dollar spent on parks creates another $2.35 for the California Treasury.

On Sept. 27, LA Times political columnist George Skelton, in his article "Parks vs. ballot box budgeting" wrote that "the budgeting system for state government is in shambles and practically dysfunctional. Proposition 21 on the Nov. ballot would fix the parks. But it would pound another kink into budgeting for the rest of the government. Or maybe not." He recognizes that this is tough and that "simplistic rhetoric doesn't get to the real crux of the matter," and he ends saying that ballot box budgeting "reduces flexibility of the governor and Legislature to act. But if they're incapable of acting, should the voters solve the problem themselves?"

I see this year many angry voters frustrated with politicians who do not live up to their responsibilities. This is a tough call that may not pass but that I am going to support.

The other two initiatives that in one way or the other will affect the environment are Proposition 25 and Proposition 26. The first one, if it passes, may help to end the budget gridlock in Sacramento, by allowing the Legislature to approve a state budget with a simple majority rather than the two thirds majority now required, and would make lawmakers accountable for their actions if they failed to pass a budget by June 15.

As for Proposition 26, it would require a two-thirds vote of the legislature, rather than the simple majority now needed, to pass or raise fees that provide the funds for most of our environmental protection programs. The LA Times on Oct. 18 reported that as Proposition 23 faced opposition, Big Oil started to pour money into Proposition 26. Chevron, ExxonMobil and others spent so far $11 million to pass an initiative that will leave them off the hook to pollute our air, dirty our water and endanger our health. According to the non-partisan Legislative Analyst's Office this initiative will cost the state an additional $1 billion per year, because the cleanup responsibilities are going to shift from the polluters to the taxpayers.

On Nov. 2, vote no on Proposition 26 and yes on Proposition 21 and Proposition 25.

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