By Marisa Kezirian
June 3, 2009 (San Diego)— Governor Schwarzenegger has proposed closing down 80 percent of California’s state parks due to the budget shortfall, including two of East County’s historic parks: Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. As many as 279 parks may be closed statewide. Schwarzenegger anticipates cutting universal funding for state parks in half this year, then getting rid of funding altogether in the year 2010. His decision has sparked shock and outrage among many East County residents--and a campaign to save our state parks. (See what’s at stake: view our slideshow of East County’s threatened parks: http://www.photoshop.com/user/eastcountymagazine/?trackingid=BTAGC&galle... )
In response to the Governor’s proposal, many residents of East County were willing to share their passionate opinions with East County Magazine. We interviewed randomly-chosen individuals at weekend events in Santee and Lakeside. Not a single one supported the Governor’s plan to close state parks in our region. We also interviewed local environmental and community leaders—one of whom suggests that the Obama administration add East County’s threatened parks into the National Park System.
“I would rather see them raise fees on the parks than close them,” said Elaine P. Murphy, president of The Santee Historical Society, who opposes shutting down the parks. “We are losing too much of our history, and I would love to see the historic state parks preserved.” In regards to the current Legislature, Murphy, a life-long Republican, commented, “Their actions are both dysfunctional and inept.”
“The closure of the State Parks is terrible!” said Linda, a member of the Democratic Party in Santee. Regarding budget issues, she added, “Schwarzenegger needs to get realistic and raise taxes, not income taxes, but sales taxes. There also needs to be an initiative to change the vote in the legislature to a simple majority instead of a 2/3 vote.”
“My family and I do not go to the parks often, and we are not directly affected by the closures, but it’s still not right,” said Ray Middleton, interviewed by ECM at a Santee street fair.
Another resident of East County, Sharon Noble, stated, “The whole budget needs to be revamped. Too many important establishments, such as parks are being taken away.”
For Denis Traficanty, an avid wilderness enthusiast who led a successful battle to keep Sunrise Powerlink out of Anza Borrego Desert State Park, the news sparked sadness—and a creative proposal.
“After spending most of yesterday circling Middle Peak in the Cuyamaca State Park and thinking about this latest foolish recommendation coming for the Governor’s office, part of me thinks that both state parks (Cuyamaca and Anza Borrego) should be combined and transferred to the National Park System,” he wrote in an e-mail to ECM. “It would be a great National Park with the combination of mountains and deserts. After all, Anza Borrego Desert State Park (ABDSP) would have been a National Park if our country wasn’t going through a great depression 76 years ago. So why not consider doing it now?”
He added, “I think it would be difficult for the likes of our local political officials to constantly push for industrialization of these beautiful wilderness lands. I also think it would be much harder to circle these lands with unnecessary Big Wind, Big Solar and Big Transmission which has been and continues to be the interest of the majority of our political officials in this bankrupt state. If they are successful, soon you will see Big Solar fields, Big Wind Turbines and Big Transmission lines all visible from our Parklands thanks to our corrupt politics in California.”
Trafecanty noted that the Nature Conservancy has purchased land earmarked for inclusion into Anza Borrego Desert State Park. But he observed, that “there is strong belief that our Governor will not let this critical piece of land (a critical wildlife corridor to wilderness areas in Mexico) get added to our State Park. Why? My belief is that our Governor wants to be assured that an unnecessary 500kv transmission line gets built through this land first so that he can take care of some major donors to his campaign before it gets designated as a part of our State Park. So considering the political corruption and financial instability in this state,” he concluded, “maybe we should consider a change.”
Sierra Club has launched an online campaign to persuade the Governor to back off on plans to close state parks. To send an e-mail to the Governor via the Sierra Club site, visit : https://secure2.convio.net/sierra/site/Advocacy?pagename=homepage&page=U....
If you wish to air your views on state park closures to your elected state representatives, you can find a list of California Assemblymembers and State Senators from our region, along with their contact info, at our Citizens Action Center: http://www.eastcountymagazine.org/?q=0809soundoff.
Governor Schwarzenegger did not return calls or e-mails requesting comments for this story. When presenting his latest round of budget cuts to the Legislature, however, he defended his request as follows: "Our wallet is empty. Our bank is closed. Our credit is dried up,” the Governor concluded. “I know for many of you, these will be the hardest votes you will ever make. But the people sent us here to lead not only in times of prosperity but also in times of crisis. We must make these cuts and live within our means, because what is the alternative. If we don't act, the state will simply run out of money and go insolvent."
Marisa Kezirian is a student at San Diego State University and an intern with East County Magazine.