Why was the Parks Forward Initiative formed?

California state parks represent some of the state’s most important and valuable assets. State parks provide important recreational and educational experiences for Californians, protect California’s diverse natural and cultural resources, and contribute significantly to California’s economy through tax revenues and jobs. Recently, the state parks system has experienced significant difficulties that threaten its long-term financial sustainability. The Parks Forward Initiative is an independent, multi-year collaborative process that seeks to reverse this trend, by transforming the system into one that is financially sustainable and better meets the needs of California’s growing population and changing demographics.

The Initiative will combine expertise, charitable funding, and public involvement to advance recent assessments of the current system and develop and implement a new vision and long-term plan for a financially sustainable system that meets the needs of California’s growing and changing population. The Initiative has the full support of the Natural Resources Agency and the Department of Parks and Recreation.

What is the Parks Forward Commission?

The Initiative will be led by an independent Parks Forward Commission. The Parks Forward Commission will be made up of 9 to 12 independent members, all selected by the California Secretary of Natural Resources. The Secretary will also select two of the members to serve as Chair and Vice Chair. The members will be diverse thought leaders from a wide array of business, finance, government, nonprofit, academic, science, and arts backgrounds.

The Parks Forward Commission will work as an independent body. The Parks Forward Commission will meet several times during the next two years to guide and review relevant research, analysis, and public input, assess the current system, and adopt plans that will be designed to transform the current system into one that is financially sustainable, appropriately located, and better serves California’s growing and changing population. The Parks Forward Commission will also provide input and assistance to implement the final plan, and will monitor the implementation progress.

What is the Parks Forward Initiative Memorandum of Understanding?

The Parks Forward Initiative will be undertaken in accordance with the terms of a written Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The signatories to the MOU are the Natural Resources Agency, the Department of Parks and Recreation, and Resources Legacy Fund. Resources Legacy Fund is a nonprofit public-benefit (tax exempt) 501(c)(3) organization that is coordinating the charitable foundations contributions to the Initiative. The MOU is publicly available and can be found on the Parks Forward Initiative website at www.parksforward.com.

The MOU sets forth the specific objectives, scope, and organizational structure, of the Initiative, as well as the specific commitments of the Resources Agency, Department, and RLF.

The Parks Forward Initiative and Commission will be supported by a Project Director and Deputy Project Director, as well as a work team that will include policy, finance, scientific, and recreation experts from within and outside state government. The work team will conduct research and analysis; review ongoing assessments and study efforts currently underway by the nonprofit, private, and public sectors; synthesize public input; and prepare materials and provide staffing for the Parks and Recreation Commission’s public outreach (see below for more information on this).

Does the Parks Forward Initiative fulfill any legislative mandates?

Yes. Last year, in response to ongoing and serious funding problems discovered within the Department, the California Legislature passed both the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012 (AB 1589) and AB 1478. These pieces of legislation each call for the formation of a multidisciplinary advisory council to conduct an independent assessment of the current State Parks System and make recommendations to the California Legislature and Governor on future management, planning, and funding proposals that will ensure the long-term sustainability of the State Parks System. The Parks Forward Commission is designed to fulfill these directives.

What issues will the Parks Forward Initiative address?

The goal of the Parks Forward Initiative is to develop a new vision and approach to managing, using, and sustaining California’s state parks. The parties to the MOU understand that this will require the Parks Forward Commission to address a broad set of issues, including how the Department and the state parks system are organized, structured, managed, funded, and staffed as well as the mission, number, location, and activities of individual state park units. Many of these issues have been considered intractable, so left unaddressed for years. Through the MOU, the Initiative is designed to address all of these difficult issues through new and different ways.

Will there be an opportunity for public input?

Yes. Input from Californians is a very important component of the process. Californians will have the opportunity to provide input through a variety of mechanisms during the life of the Initiative including public workshops, the Parks Forward website, social media, e-mail comments, and letters. The Parks Forward work team will synthesize all public input received for the Parks Forward Commission to consider and incorporate as part of their plan development.

The Parks and Recreation Commission will coordinate public outreach through a series of public workshops conducted throughout the state. The workshops will present the public with an opportunity to be briefed on the status of parks and to provide input on needs and recommendations for improving the system.

Will there be an opportunity for input by Department of Parks and Recreation staff?

Yes. The expertise and input offered by Department of Parks and Recreation staff is considered invaluable to the success of the Initiative. The Department will conduct outreach sessions with staff throughout the state to seek input and suggestions. Results of that outreach will be incorporated into the assessment materials considered by the Parks Forward Commission. Additional informal opportunities for staff input will be available through the work team and other Department communications mechanisms.

How will the final plan adopted by the Parks Forward Commission be implemented?

The parties to the MOU are keen to ensure that final plan recommendations adopted by the Parks Forward Commission will be implemented and not just sit on a shelf. The MOU specifically addresses the need for timely implementation of recommendations. The Natural Resources Agency has committed to use best efforts to advance implementation of appropriate legislative, policy, governance, and business plan recommendations included in the final plan. The Agency has committed to seeking new sources of state and federal funding for implementation. In addition, the Department of Parks and Recreation has committed to providing additional staff as necessary to support coordination of implementation. The Parks Forward Commission will assist in implementation of its final plan, by monitoring progress and suggesting appropriate plan recommendations.

How is the Parks Forward Initiative being funded?

The Parks Forward Initiative will be supported by significant charitable funding, as well as public agency commitments that are included in the MOU. Philanthropic funding will allow the Initiative to make use of significant outside expertise, talent, and resources to enable a thorough assessment of the current system, as well as the development of a focused, innovative vision for the system’s future. The charitable organizations supporting the Initiative are dedicated to improving California and its environment. They have joined together to support this Initiative seeking a rigorous analysis and inclusive process to ensure a thriving State Park System and an enduring legacy for all Californians, and not to advance any pre-ordained ideas or outcomes. While charitable funding will support much of the costs of the Initiative, decisions will be made by the state and the public will have access to the process.