17 August 2010

Chino Hills State Park Visitor Center Update

Courtesy of an article by Marianne Napoles in the latest issue of the Chino Hills Champion is a review of the construction of the visitor center for Chino Hills State Park, nearing completion on Carbon Canyon Road in Brea adjacent to the regional park.

The facility has been in the works for many years and is funded by state bond issues and the state parks and recreation department.  Another half a million dollars for improvements to the state highway (utility lines are being located underground and the road widened for safer ingress and egress at the facility site), paid for by the Metropolian Water District when a deal was struck with the parks department to allow the MWD a secondary access road to the Diemer water treatment facility in the hills adjacent to the park.  Some of that money has been placed in an endowment fund, from which the interest will be used for staffing the center.

The center has two components: a 1,000 square foot interpretive and office area and an 800 square foot meeting room, with the latter being slated for use by school groups visiting the park.  A parking area with a 40 vehicle capacity, five restrooms, picnic tables, a trailhead to the park, and landscaping.

By October, it is projected that the entrance, parking area, and restrooms will be available for public use with the day use fee being $8.  Because the interpretive exhibits (including artist's renderings, taxidermied animals, and material on the natural setting of the park [history, anyone?]) are still in the design and production phase and handled by a separate contract, the grand opening for the center will not be until next summer.

The ticket price for the facility is said to be a little under $4 milllion, which might strike some as a needless extravagance given the state's economic morass, which certainly goes back further, in its roots, than the decade-long planning for the center cited in the article.  As a frequent user of the park, your humble blogger has some very mixed feelings.  While any opportunity to provide recreational and educational opportunities in our very diverse and exceptional park system are welcomed, the fact that endowments have to be created to provide for staffing is a notable one that highlights a problem that needs to be addressed.

For example, during the last two budget cycles, threats have been made by the governor that most or all of the state's parks might be shut down or severely curtailed as far as operations.  Even before that, there were troubling signs of financial disconnects:  at Pio Pico State Historic Park in Whittier, to cite just one instance, bond money and other funding sources were used to complete an impressive and striking restoration of an important landmark, but there was little money ever provided for staffing. 
Moreover, there are staffing issues in the park generally that almost certainly need to be addressed.  Misuse of trails, destruction to habitat, maintenance of other existing and new facilities (such as the nice camping area and other infrastructure introduced at the Rolling M Ranch area near the Chino Hills entrance) and other matters are major components to an adequate management of a 14,000-acre resource of immense value to our overcrowded region.

Finally, the reliance upon bond money to pay for needed and desired infrastructure and related programs of all kinds throughout the state has brought a troubling price to pay with respect to the interest (usually about double the principal) owed on these bonds.  Rather than a "pay as you go" approach, our state's voters have adopted a "let our children and granchildren worry about it" methodology that mirrors the massive personal and national debt our country has racked up in its deficit-funded prosperity plan of the last four decades or so.  You don't have to be an ideologue inhabiting the extremes of the political spectrum to see how shortsighted this concept has been.

Parks are essential to the well-being of society--as open space buffers, educational areas, and recreational playgrounds.  Without them, we'd lose a vital part of our being.  Yet, the unwillingness to pay for even the barest of essentials with regard to staffing, facilities, maintenance and other aspects endangers the viability of these valuable components and borrowing with high interest doesn't, in the long run, serve our economic interests.  The talk of privatizing park management (witness how well this goes with toll roads) occasionally rears its head, as well, but like the concept of privatizing Social Security winds up assuming that the program is inherently flawed, rather than the will to manage these properly or, at the very least, with earnest intentions to do so.

So, as much as a fully-opened visitor center in Summer 2011 provides needed services, it also reminds of a fundamental problem in how California deals with infrastructure.  One only need to see how the battle of the withdrawn water bond, which was supposed to be on the ballot this fall, has played out to know that solutions to major problems (and parks hardly ranks high on the priority list) are going to be very difficult in this climate of extreme polarization, politicization, and procrastination.

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