As it’s being sold, California’s Prop. 21 is meant to gladden the hearts of all who love open space, wildlife, natural beauty, etc. I know I do.
Even better, the proposition seems so reasonable: For just $18 per car per year, which is less than most people, even poor people, spend on coffee (or chocolate) per week, California’s state parks (and many of them are truly wonderful) will be protected from California’s current swift slide into bankruptcy. However, much as I love the parks, there’s a little bomb hidden in the proposed legislation that turns me off it entirely. The bomb is the “State Parks Access Pass.”
Here’s how it works. The monies collected from this tax (for it is a tax) will be applied to park operations, improvements, restoration, upkeep, etc., all of which is to be expected. In return, the state will automatically issued a “State Parks Access Pass” to all who are forced to pay this mandatory $18.00 tax. The Pass functions as an admission pass to the park system:
5087. (a) All California vehicles subject to the State Parks Access Pass shall have free admission to all units of the state park system and to designated state lands and wildlife areas as provided in this chapter.
(b) For the purposes of this section, “free admission” means free vehicle admission, parking, and day use at all units of the state park system and shall be subject only to those limitations as the department deems necessary to manage the state park system to avoid overcrowding and damage to natural and cultural resources and for public health and safety. Other state and local agencies shall designate those lands whose management and operation is funded pursuant to this chapter for free vehicle access where that access is consistent with the management objectives of the land. As used in this subdivision, free admission does not include camping, tour fees, swimming pool fees, the use of boating facilities, museum and special event fees, any supplemental fees, or special event parking fees.
5087.1. The department shall issue rebates of the State Parks Access Pass surcharge to veterans who qualify for a park fee exemption pursuant to Section 5011.5.
In other words: Everyone who drives a car in California has to fund the state parks, but the people who use the state parks get a full refund in the form of free admission to a place they’d intended to visit in any event. This means that, as to California taxpayers, the only ones who actually end up paying for the parks are the ones who don’t use them, while the ones who use them get a free ride.
This is an exceptionally sleazy little bit of elitist legislation when one considers who uses the state parks: elites. While I have no statistics to back me up, one of the main things I’ve noticed over my many, many years of traveling to California’s state parks is that there are almost no blacks there; almost no Hispanics there; and, aside from Japanese tourists, almost no Asians there. There are also no really poor people there.
Judging by clothes, cars, and general presentation, state parks tend to be a white middle- and w0rking-class phenomenon. If my observations are correct (and please feel free to challenge them), Prop. 21’s passage would mean that the whites of a certain socioeconomic status who “get” nature, will have their pleasure funded by the working class, ethnic stiffs who don’t share their appreciation.
By the way, Free Will has a nice round-up of voting suggestions for Californians. Check it out.