Sunday, August 2, 2009


Director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation, Ruth Coleman, held an all department meeting Friday wherein she gave us a brief history of the California budget problem, let us know where it stands now, answered questions, and tried to bolster morale and encourage creative problem solving.

She began with a story, I think from her youth - A friend babysitting 4 very active boys sent them outside to play. Sometime later they came in alarmed and dismayed. In their running around, they trampled down their parents' sunflower garden. Sunflowers now lay broken on the ground. "We're finished! Mom and Dad are going to kill us!" the 12 year old was in despair. The 4 year old asked, "Can't we get some super glue or bandaids and fix them?" Ruth told us that when faced with challenges and problems, people often respond with one extreme or the other, neither of which is realistic or helpful. What the babysitter and boys did was go out and pick up all the sunflowers, make several lovely bouquets and place them in vases around the house.

She said that they in administration are and asked us throughout the department and the public who cares about Parks to help pick up the sunflowers and find vases. Look for ways to save, to find support, to be creative.

Parks has lost a bit over 21% of its budget, including, I think, anticipated revenue loss from closures. Some of our parks will be closed. The creativity comes in minimizing how many or how long. They are hoping that many parks can go to reduced days and hours rather than fully closing. There is great concern about what happens to a park that actually closes. There is talk about getting sponsors. National Parks may temporarily care for state parks that are within their boundaries. Volunteers and donations will help. California State Parks Foundation is on the front line there.

With the earlier budget - which was dependent on the voters passing some constitutional changes which were never well explained to us and all failed (whether they should have or not, I don't know. I sure didn't understand them) - Parks would likely have had to close 50 parks and probably absorbed all job losses in vacancies and attrition. Now, it is almost inevitable that people will be laid off. They are working on minimizing that.

Ruth tried to put the best face on it while, at the same time, being honest with us.

Most of us who work for Parks and Recreation see it as more than just a job. Many of us feel a deep pride and connection to our mission: The mission of California State Parks is to provide for the health, inspiration, and education of the people of California (and I would add, the nation and the world) by helping to preserve the state's extraordinary biological diversity, protecting its most valued natural and cultural resources, and creating opportunities for high-quality outdoor recreation. We love our parks, value our resources, and know that people in California and all around the world come to them for refreshment and recreation.

We do also want to keep our jobs! There are a few people in our office at greater risk than I. Small comfort. I do want to keep my job, but I don't want to see them lose theirs!

Ruth says no whining and no attacking someone else's program. Improve and defend your own. Go pick up the sunflowers.

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