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Editorial: Park-saving plan; grad requirements

'Sustainable Parks' proposal aims to stop closure of state parks

As he prepares to leave Sacramento due to term limits, State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) is hoping to leave one final legislative mark: saving as many California parks from closure as possible.

As chair of the Senate budget subcommittee that oversees the park system, Simitian should be able to shepherd his proposal to the Senate floor before a July 1 deadline and hopefully obtain legislative approval and ultimately Governor Brown's signature. A similar bill is being considered in the Assembly.

Last May, as the state budget crisis worsened, it was estimated that 70 parks would have to close in 2012 and 2013 due to cuts in the state parks budget. Since then, non-profit groups and local and federal agencies have been working feverishly to find other sources of funding to keep parks open and maintained, and as a result the number expected to close was reduced to 54 last month.

But with these parks facing closure at the beginning of the next fiscal year, a flurry of legislative activity, including Simitian's proposal, is being mounted in Sacramento to find a way to keep most of the 280 state parks operating. (Local parks currently on the closure list are Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda and Castle Rock State Park near Saratoga.)

Simitian, along with North Coast Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa), are proposing that $20 million a year be allocated to the park system from two existing state funds: the Motor Vehicle Account, which funds road maintenance and law enforcement on public roads, and the Clean Water Loan Fund, which could be used for badly needed water and septic system repairs.

The state park system has historically operated entirely within its own appropriated budget and has never utilized these funds, but with a deferred maintenance backlog exceeding $1 billion, the Simitian-Evans proposal is attempting to create a more stable, longer-term financial strategy using existing special purpose funds that are separate from the annual state budget.

Other provisions are no-brainers, such as limiting the liability of non-profit organizations who step up to help maintain or operate parks and allowing more flexibility and entrepreneurism in operations.

State park supporters have done an incredible job over the last year at rallying public support and creating partnerships with non-profits in an attempt to reduce the impacts of the budget cutbacks. Simitian's proposal will complement and reward those efforts by creating funding sources sufficient to keep open and eventually improve our treasured parks.

New grad requirements

After more than a year of discussion and fine-tuning, the Palo Alto school board gave all but its final approval on Tuesday to an updated plan for phasing in graduation requirements that are in sync with what is required to attend state universities.

Once the board takes its final vote on May 22, Palo Alto high schools would phase in over several years the UC/CSU entrance criteria as its standards for graduating from high school, a higher bar than is currently in place.

The change would add two years of foreign language, increase from two years to three of math, including Algebra 2, and change the current two-year science requirement to include a laboratory science.

About 80 percent of the high school graduates in Palo Alto already have been meeting these so-called A-G standards and will not be affected. The debate has centered around whether elevating the requirements will result in getting that number up closer to 100 percent, or simply cause more students to not graduate from high school.

Key to the consensus that has developed for the plan is a system whereby special education and other students who are not bound for college will be able to craft individual alternative graduation requirements.

Passage of the new requirements is an important step in improving Palo Alto's relatively poor record of educating both minority students and economically disadvantaged students compared to other school districts in the state, and we commend Superintendent Kevin Skelly and the school board for bringing this important reform to fruition.

Comments

Posted by timing, and Thank you!, a resident of East Palo Alto
on May 13, 2012 at 5:24 pm

Thank you for making Palo alto High School's Math teachers letter accessible to the public.
Letter was sent past April, more than a year ago. Letter was addressing all board members. This letter became visible to the public past December.
Seems that visibility has everything to do with some changes, attitude.
long way ahead..allot can be done without spending more $


Posted by Kevin, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2012 at 6:46 pm

" proposing that $20 million a year be allocated to the park system from two existing state funds: the Motor Vehicle Account, which funds road maintenance and law enforcement on public roads"

NO! Stop the theft of our road funds!!!

Public parks should be funded through use fees and volunteer groups. Put the Sierra Club to good labor.


Posted by Say-Goodbye-Joe!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 13, 2012 at 8:32 pm

> State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) is hoping to
> leave one final legislative mark

As if Joe Simitian hasn't done enough already—

Shortfall in California's Budget Swells to $16 Billion

Web Link

Published: May 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES — The state budget shortfall in California has increased dramatically in the last six months, forcing state officials to assemble a series of new spending cuts that are likely to mean further reductions to schools, health care and other social programs already battered by nearly five years of budget retrenchment, state officials announced on Saturday.
----

Simitian has never shown any public interest in the long-term structural deficit that he and his fellow Democrats have legislated onto the California people, economy, and government during his very long time in Sacramento. It's clear he doesn't have a clue, and will do anything to scare up a few votes as he tries to bring his brown-thumb of spend/spend/spend back to Santa Clara County. He is a first class DISASTER, and should be retired by the Voters immediately!

Let's hope that Gov. Brown's cuts take precedence of Simitian's attempt to gouge money out of the highway programs. If the parks are so important, then the people who use them should pay for their costs—either through increased fees, or volunteering, or both.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on May 13, 2012 at 8:40 pm



It is past time for Joe Simitian to retire and live happily ever ever after

Time for some new blood and younger people to have a chance at public office

We wish him well in his dotage and it is time for Joe to say

-- good bye


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 14, 2012 at 5:40 am

Most visitors to state parks buy gasoline for the occasion. I'd vote to have a portion of gas taxes fund the parks. The route through Big Basin is state highway 236, a public non-toll thoroughfare like highway 9 or 17 or 35. Someone may complain that maintenance costs on a lane-mile usage basis are not equitable, but then why are we here chipping in for snow removal on highways in the Sierras? Why does mailing a letter to Sunnyvale subsidize mailing to Butte, Montana? Also seems reasonable to have some clean water funds go to state parks, since many have water within their boundaries, much of which flows out their boundaries. Yeah, I'm one of those selfish park users who wants everyone else to pay. But there are thousands of other tax-payer funded amenities which I don't use, and with an average Palo Alto income, I feel I've been paying more than my share of state taxes. And however large the deficit gets, I'll end up paying more than my share to cover it. Call me entitled.


Posted by Say-Goodbye-Joe!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2012 at 7:31 am

> Most visitors to state parks buy gasoline for the occasion.
> I'd vote to have a portion of gas taxes fund the parks.

The problem with this is that most people don't use the parks--but because they drive, they are being expected to fund the parks over-and-above the base support that already comes from their other taxes.

A better solution is to recognize that the parks are business generators in the areas around the parks, and to allow local park-funding tax districts that would permit a small sales tax increase so that the people who are using the parks pay a small increase in the sales taxes for goods/services spent when they are in this park district. In this way, additional revenue is generated from the people who are using the parks--not everyone in the state.

It would also be a good idea to find out which of these parks are poorly used—and shut them down. This basic bit of analysis has not be done by anyone promoting more money for the parks. It's pretty clear that there are too many of these parks, and better management than we are going to get from the likes of Joe Simitian is needed.


Posted by No liberal, but. . . ., a resident of Palo Alto High School
on May 14, 2012 at 10:07 am

Re new graduation requirements: "The change would add two years of foreign language, increase from two years to three of math, including Algebra 2, and change the current two-year science requirement to include a laboratory science. . . Passage of the new requirements is an important step in improving Palo Alto's relatively poor record of educating both minority students and economically disadvantaged students compared to other school districts in the state."

This is a perfect plan to push out the poor and weak students from our district and will add stress to our student population. PAUSD BoE: Just because most of you are Ivy League grads, doesn't mean everyone else is capable academically.

This is a public school system, and it now has the criteria of a private school. What a shame. Students without intelligent genes need not apply.


Posted by Bill, a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 14, 2012 at 10:44 am

No liberal, but... What would you suggest as an alternative for those students who are not academically gifted? Certainly raising the standards won't work. Should there be two lanes for students? One for college bound and others who can do good work in other fields but don't have the ability to compete academically?


Posted by Crescent Park Dad, a resident of Crescent Park
on May 14, 2012 at 10:58 am

@ "No liberal, but": Did you actually read the editorial or did you stop after the first 3 paragraphs? Read the entire column, take a breath and think for a moment.

80% of the current grads already meet the A-G requirements.

PAUSD has stated that they want to create an alternate path for those students who do not or cannot go the A-G route.


Posted by Rob Peter to pay Paul, a resident of Mountain View
on May 14, 2012 at 11:28 am

The statement "...Motor Vehicle Account, which funds road maintenance and law enforcement on public roads..." is misleading. Some of the funds that Simitian wants to plunder are already earmarked for keeping State Parks open (roads in State parks are Public Roads!) These are heavily used parks, with large volunteer organizations already providing support and maintenance. Simitian wants to rob these STATE Parks to keep open other less used State parks.


Posted by Old Steve, a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on May 14, 2012 at 11:38 am

Folks,

Tourism is big in California. Muir Woods, many beaches, Hearst Castle, are all state parks. If we fund their operation through local taxing authorities, wouldn't they become local parks? Then the locals could vote to keep the rest of us out on crowded days.

Oh yeah, Palo Alto already does it that way with Foothill. Parks provide benefits to all, even without use: Watersheds, biodiversity,trees to suck up greenhouse gases, places to exercise, etc. Just like roads benefit all (commerce, emergencies, etc) even if one does not drive. If you bike but don't drive, don't complain about the condition of the road, since you don't buy gas (gas tax is virtually the only funding source for road repairs). The decision is about how to remain a "first world" civilization as a state. If you want to be able to pay lower taxes to live in a more simple, less expensive, less complex, "third world" community; Please consider immigrating to one. Silicon Valley inovates for the world in part because really smart people want to live here!


Posted by Kevin, a resident of Midtown
on May 14, 2012 at 11:46 am

Roads in the public parks should be funded from the gas tax, because they are public roads. However, general maintenance and operations should keep out of our road funds! Just tell them NO, NO, NO!!!!!!


Posted by Say-Goodbye-Joe!, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 14, 2012 at 11:52 am

> If we fund their operation through local taxing authorities,
> wouldn't they become local parks?

No .. not really. Parks are currently paid for by various revenue streams: 1) State Money, 2) Visitor Fees, 3) Grants, 4) State land ownership, 5) volunteers. The local taxing "authority" would be a "regional" taxing authority that would likely remain at the state level, and have nothing to do with "local control". Perhaps "Regional" would be a better way to describe this approach.

> Then the locals could vote to keep the rest of us out on
> crowded days

The Bay Area Transportation Agencies get a small slice of the 9+% sales tax that is charged here in the Bay Area. Each Agency uses the money to provide for "regional transportation". Even though these particular taxes were authorized via the ballot, there is no way that the same voters can then vote to close the Regional transportation systems on "busy days".


Posted by Billy, a resident of Community Center
on May 14, 2012 at 9:43 pm

State Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) is hoping to leave one final legislative mark: saving as many California parks from closure as possible.

I guess the editor(s) have forgotten that Joe has been helping the High Speed Rail project along for years, always needing a bit more time, a bit more information, yet another study, before he can figure out what to do with it. The ploy to save parks is nice, I can't argue with that. However, the alleged hoops he claims to have jumped through to cobble some $40M to achieve that admirable task are pennies compared to the hundreds of billions of dollars he will help saddle Californian's with for decades to come if he's part of the crowd that give HSR yet another chance, and votes to approve funding that disaster.

The fiscal unraveling of the state will be Joe's legacy, because shortly after HSR sucks the CA Treasury dry, the parks will undoubtedly be closed again. Somehow I doubt Joe's pension will be affected though.

Thanks Joe.


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