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Independent Commission: Fix Parks System, Then Ask Voters to Pay For It


Here’s the recipe from an independent commission to turn around a California Department of Parks and Recreation in turmoil after financial scandals and budget cuts: Fix the broken bureaucracy, then ask voters to approve new taxes or fees to pay for the parks system.

Paper time cards. That’s all you need to know about California’s state parks system: Employees still use paper time cards.

“That’s a small thing, but something that’s reflective of not having caught up and modernized.” says Ken Wiseman. He's executive director of the Parks Forward Commission, which was established by Gov. Jerry Brown and state lawmakers to overhaul a reeling parks system. “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. That needs to be modernized.”

The report also says leadership positions like park superintendents should be open to everyone who’s qualified – not just law enforcement. It recommends appealing to young, urban and minority communities to increase park attendance. And it calls for breaking down the bureaucratic hurdles that make it hard for outside groups to work with the department.

Once all that’s done, Wiseman says, it’ll be time to ask voters to approve a stable funding source for state parks. “We have to first show that we’ve got a department that you can keep track of costs and you know what it’s really costing, or should cost, to run.”

Vicky Waters with the state Parks Department says her agency has already begun making changes “…so that we can be improving the way we do business, improving our budgetary process, and we’re also very diligently working on improving those technological changes that so many people have asked for.”

The commission’s final report is due out this fall – in time for its recommendations to get into the governor’s budget proposal in January.

Parks Forward Commission Draft Recommendations (DRAFT - July 30, 2014)


Ben Adler

Capitol Bureau Chief

Capitol Bureau Chief Ben Adler first became a public radio listener in the car on his way to preschool – though not necessarily by choice. Now, he leads Capital Public Radio’s state Capitol coverage, which airs on NPR stations across California.  Read Full Bio 

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