Why California’s $4 Billion Prop 68 Is a Must-Win Measure for Outdoorists Everywhere

The unprecedented investment in state recreation and conservation will become a standard for other states to replicate. It’s time for the entire recreation community to mobilize and support the bill.

By Jill Sanford April 25, 2018

In south central Los Angeles, there’s a five-acre park named for its brilliantly purple Jacaranda trees that bloom each spring. Once a derelict hotspot for crime, it’s now a beloved community gathering place where people play Frisbee with their children, and grandparents walk laps around the trail that circumnavigates the park. Located in an underserved, high-need neighborhood, this space is idyllic, family friendly, and peaceful. It was made possible by a $5 million bond in 2012, and it’s a testament to the value of state investment in local recreation infrastructure.

Los Angeles’s Jacaranda Park was made possible by a $5 million bond. (Courtesy of Los Angles Land Trust)

But the difference between Jacaranda Park and an iconic tourist destination like Lake Tahoe, with its upscale resorts and endless backcountry access, is a testament to the challenges and diverse needs that public land advocates and managers in California must balance. Thanks to a new state bond measure on California ballots June 5, a new funding stream will improve recreation infrastructure across the state, from south central L.A. to the southern Cascades.

California Proposition 68, is a parks, environment, and water bond that will authorize $4 billion to fund state and local parks, environmental protection and restoration projects, water infrastructure projects, and flood protection projects. It is the largest single conservation bond in the state’s history.

From the Inner City to the High Sierra

Parks-poor neighborhoods, like the one surrounding Jacaranda Park, will receive $725 million of Prop 68’s $4 billion. These are places that have traditionally been left out of the conversation about who deserves access to the outdoors.

“Too often, these park poor communities—which are rich in culture, rich in capital, in people power, in innovation, in so many ways—have been ignored and disinvested in for too long,” says Tamika Butler, executive director of the Los Angeles Neighborhood Land Trust, the organization responsible transforming Jacaranda Park.

“This is going to really be part of changing the game. We need to be able to say, ‘yes, we should give to parks-poor communities first because we’ve had a history of not doing that,’” says Butler. She sees this measure and other park initiatives in L.A. as a first step in tackling systemic racism and providing equal access to the outdoors and beyond.

Proposition 68 prioritizes funding for these high-need, parks-poor areas. Advocates for other areas of the state, however, particularly places that desperately need funding for forest restoration and other natural resource improvements, also feel like they are winning with Prop 68.

“There are a lot of urban communities that don’t have access to parks and open spaces, so this is very focused on making sure these park-poor communities are getting first crack,” say Kerri Timmer, vice president of climate and energy at Sierra Business Council, an organization that serves the economic and environmental interests of the Sierra region. “But there is an unprecedented amount of Prop 68 funding directed specifically to the Sierra-Cascade region.”

In previous years, the Sierra region was forced to compete with more urbanized areas for funding. Often, Sierra Business Council and their partners would lose out to projects that served the high-need, urban core.

“We don’t have the population urban areas in the state do, of course, and our legislators who represent this region aren’t typically supportive of natural resource bonds, so it’s been hard to make the case to spend money up here because this region doesn’t have that kind of political clout,” says Timmer.

But the Sierra region is the state’s primary watershed, so wildfires and other consequences of climate change that affect watershed health have a high likelihood of impacting the rest of the state. In 2013, the Rim Fire outside of Yosemite National Park, a relatively remote region, caused California’s governor to declare a state of emergency in San Francisco County when the city’s water supply was compromised.

“This bond does actually recognize the importance of the Sierra by directing money specifically to the region,” says Timmer. “The funding covers a range of activities, from land conservation and land management to watershed health and drinking water quality; from fire risk reduction to forest health. Embedded within all of those [are] the recreation opportunities that are either protected or enhanced by these projects.”

“This is a great pot of funding that would enhance the recreation experience and ultimately improve and enhance the infrastructure experience. It would allow us to make enhancements that benefit the economy and the environment at the same time.” —Dave Polivy, Owner, Tahoe Mountain Sports

Proposition 68 is unprecedented not just because of the impressive funding it opens up—it’s rare to see a measure that addresses both recreation infrastructure and important environmental initiatives at the same time.

“Twenty-five million dollars will go specifically to rural areas as an economic development component that promotes recreation and tourism,” says Timmer. This is in addition to funds also set aside for improving access to the outdoors for disadvantaged youth in the Sierra.

The measure acknowledges the symbiotic relationship between improving recreation opportunities and conservation projects—a rare piece of legislation in this day and age.

It’s Time for the Recreation Community to Mobilize on Prop 68

Environmental justice organizers, public land advocates, federal agencies, conservation organizations and nonprofits are mobilizing around Prop 68, and California’s outdoor recreation community is joining the cause.

Prop 68 is good for business, but it’s also an opportunity for the outdoor industry to make good on its values of stewardship, removing barriers to outdoor recreation, and improving recreation for all.

“Prop 68 links conservation and restoration with recreation,” says Dave Polivy, owner of Tahoe Mountain Sports in Truckee. “This is a great pot of funding that would enhance the recreation experience and ultimately improve and enhance the infrastructure experience. It would allow us to make enhancements that benefit the economy and the environment at the same time.”

Like Polivy, who works closely with Sierra Business Council as an advocate for recreation in the Sierra, many members of the outdoor community are aligning with new partners outside of the industry to support Prop 68.

“What’s happening is it’s gathering a coalition of people that you’d think would already be talking, but in reality, they aren’t,” says Steve Barker, founder of Eagle Creek and member of OIA’s Recreation Advisory Council. “It’s a new coalition of folks that do environmental justice work in the urban core, people that do education and youth engagement work, conservation organizations, outdoor recreation groups, and city and state parks. That’s a nice powerful community that’s all coming together to get this bill passed.”

Prop 68 is good for business, but it’s also an opportunity for the outdoor industry to make good on its values of stewardship, removing barriers to outdoor recreation, and improving recreation for all.

How Prop 68’s Funding Will Be Allocated

The Ripple Effect of California’s Sizable Outdoor Recreation Industry

The outdoor industry has begun to wield its political weight on a national level, but it’s also showing up locally.

“California is a leader in our country on both policy and implementation. What happens in California can be replicated throughout the rest of the country, from a recreation standpoint.”—Dave Polivy

As the highest-grossing state in the nation for outdoor recreation, California is responsible for $92 billion in consumer spending and 691,000 jobs throughout the state. Many brands, including the North Face and Patagonia, two undisputable outdoor industry leaders, do business in the Golden State.

 

Download California’s Outdoor Recreation Economy report

 

“California is a leader in our country on both policy and implementation,” says Polivy. “What happens in California can be replicated throughout the rest of the country, from a recreation standpoint.”

The Trust for Public Land, Adventure 16, Tahoe Mountain Sports, REI and OIA have already endorsed Prop 68, and brands interested in getting engaged should reach out to OIA’s Government Affairs staff at ga@outdoorindustry.org.

 

Mobilizing the Outdoor Community’s Vote

“As representatives from the outdoor industry, we can bring a lot of people to the table because we are hitting on a constituency that the nonprofit and public sectors haven’t really looked to,” says Polivy.

The outdoor recreation community is uniquely poised to mobilize around this issue, which is arguably a win-win for diverse interests throughout the state.

“It’s going to be critical to get out the vote,” says Timmer. “You can sit there and say, oh I think this is a good idea, but unless you actually pull the lever or push the button on June 5th, it’s not going to matter.”

Tamika Butler of Los Angeles Land Trust agrees: “When we do have a chance, particularly on the state level, to stand up for what we believe is right and important—parks and open space and clean water—we have a chance to say, we’re going to make this happen for all Californians. We absolutely have to do the right thing.”