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.