Friday, 19 July 2024

Local park advocates take concerns over closures to Sacramento

Lake County park advocates took their message of saving parks to the state capitol on Monday. From left, Leona Butts, Bobbi Towne, D.A. Butts, Madelene Lyon, Neil Towne and Val Nixon. Courtesy photo.

LAKE COUNTY – An intrepid group of local park supporters went to Sacramento Monday to let state leaders know that they're not willing to accept seeing state parks closed.

About half a dozen people made the trip to take part in Park Advocacy Day, which this year has special meaning in light of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to close 48 state parks – including Clear Lake State Park and Anderson March State Historic Park – in order to address the state's budget shortfall.

The California State Parks Foundation reported that more than 300 people participated in the event Monday in an effort to ward off threats to parks.

Clearlake Oaks residents Leona and D.A. Butts were among those making the trip, taking with them thousands of signatures opposing the park closure. Leona Butts is a member of the Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association's board of directors.

Also there were Madelene Lyon of Kelseyville, Clear Lake State Park Interpretive Association president; Val Nixon of Kelseyville, a recently retired park ranger who worked at Clear Lake State Park; Lower Lake resident Joey Luiz; Kelseyville residents Neil and Bobbi Towne; and Supervisor Rob Brown and his son, Tyler.

The day gave park advocates a chance to meet with legislators and representatives of the Schwarzenegger administration.

Legislators received good reviews from the group for their receptiveness to the message of saving parks.

Schwarzenegger's representatives? Not so much.

In a meeting with Thomas Sheehy, deputy director of legislation for the state Department of Finance, and Bismarck Obando, Schwarzenegger's acting director of external affairs, Butts, Nixon and Luiz recounted a terrible experience.

Luiz said Supervisor Rob Brown “really laid it on them and told them how the people of the county felt.”



From left, Lower Lake resident Joey Luiz; Bismarck Obando, Schwarzenegger's acting director of external affairs; Thomas Sheehy, deputy director of legislation for the state Department of Finance; Supervisor Rob Brown; Brown's son, Tyler; and Leona Butts of Clearlake Oaks. Photo by D.A. Butts.


However, the group recounted that Sheehy cut off Brown during his presentation. He then gave them the equivalent of a fifth-grade lecture on state finance and went so far as to accuse the delegation of caring only about their parks and not the state's fiscal situation.

Sheehy told the group that the governor needed their support of his 10-percent, across-the-board budget cuts, said Buttes.

Nixon said the group tried to offer a set of alternatives to the cuts, but overall they received a cool, condescending reception.

Schwarzenegger's staffer, Obando, couldn't even be bothered to listen to the group, instead sitting through the meeting with his attention on his palm pilot, Nixon said.

“We were very surprised by how rudely the constituents of Lake County were dealt with,” said Nixon.

Luiz said he asked Sheehy and Obando if they had ever explored the impacts on rural communities that the park closures would have.

“There was no answer to that, so of course they didn't,” he said.

Nixon said the officials didn't seem to grasp the importance of the parks to Lake County and its economy. Nixon explained that the 150,000 visitors who annually visit the two state parks bring dollars to businesses around the county.

Outside of that meeting, the rest of the day was wonderful, said Nixon. “We went and we participated in a very meaningful day.”

The group met with Assembly member Patty Berg and a staff from Sen. Patricia Wiggins' office. The North Coast districts of both legislators are being hit especially hard with proposed park closures. Berg and Wiggins both communicated their support for parks, said Nixon.

Nixon said she also ran into former Sen. Wes Chesbro, who is now running for Berg's seat, and he also was supportive of saving state parks.

State Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell was another supportive voice, said Nixon. He pointed out to park advocates that education relies on parks, which Nixon verified, saying more than 1,000 school children visit Lake County's parks annually.

In all, the day illustrated that people love and want to maintain their parks, said Nixon.



Residents from around the state voiced their opposition to opposing parks. Photo courtesy of Leona Butts.


Nixon also called Sheehy's office Tuesday to register her disappointment in the Monday meeting. “They should be accountable to us.”

She said Sheehy called back and was perfectly polite.

“We did learn that our petitions and our presentation were taken to the governor's office, so that's where they are now,” Butts added.

“It's hard to feel like you made any progress but I feel like we did,” said Luiz.

However, officials didn't reveal what's ahead for parks, and offered no hope that the cuts might be set aside.

The potential closures, said Nixon, won't garner future support for parks. In order to inform the public of the value of putting land aside, they need to see it.

Butts said park supporters continue to gather signatures to send to the governor. For more information call her at 998-3027.

E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



Children and adults alike shared the message of keeping parks open. Photo courtesy of Leona Butts.




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