Mono Lake may find a helping hand in AB 42
On Sept. 6, the California State Legislature passed Assembly Bill 42, which would allow non-profit organizations to help operate state parks that might otherwise close, according to the California State Parks Foundation’s website. “AB 42 simply provides the opportunity for the Department of Parks and Recreation and nonprofit organizations to pursue operating agreements or agreements for state parks,” the website read. Locally, this could mean a way to keep the Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve up and running.
The bill, according to Mono Lake Committee Executive Director Geoff McQuilkin, is modeled after the agreement between California State Parks and the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation. The SBTHP is a 501(c) 3, nonprofit organization that, among its other projects and tasks, operates the El Presidio de Santa Barbara State Historic Park.
“All options are possible. I’m not sure if it is the answer, but it is a good bill,” explained McQuilkin.
The Mono Lake Committee, a 501(c) 3, could be a potential candidate for park operator. One of the issues, however, is funding.
“The operating agreement doesn’t provide funding, so we would have to figure out how to pay for it,” McQuilkin explained. “Plus, the state is not just giving parks away. We would have to ramp up and show that we could meet the park’s objectives.”
However, operations at Mono Tufa Reserve may be less cumbersome than at some other state parks.
“Mono Lake is a low-cost operation because there aren’t things like campgrounds, which other state parks have,” McQuilkin explained. “Responsibilities lie more in monitoring and visitation to the Reserve, but it is a large area.”
Everything down to logistical and mundane items such as insurance would need to be nailed down to the last detail before an agreement would be put in place.
“AB 42 is super-customized by park,” McQuilkin explained. “But we are talking with the California State Parks Foundation and we are certainly looking into it.”
McQuilkin added that the process would also allow more ways to look at partnership opportunities with other nonprofits in the area such as the Bodie Foundation, to expand efforts to keep Mono Lake open. However, “the legislation does set a 20-agreement cap on the number of nonprofit operating agreements that are allowed for a park, so there may be some competition for them.” McQuilkin said.
Nonprofits that do enter into operating agreements with the state would be required to file an annual report that includes a full accounting and summary of the prior year’s operations, among other things. According to California State Parks Foundation’s website this is to ensure transparency and public accountability.
Even with these types of controls in place some are still concerned about giving more oversight of Mono Lake to the Mono Lake Committee or other nonprofits with specific mission statements.
At last week’s Mono County Tourism/Film Commission meeting, Commissioners discussed a CalTravel petition regarding AB 42. The group ultimately took no action on the petition since the bill had already passed through the Legislature, but during the discussion it wondered aloud what type of power the operating agreement would give agencies such as the Mono Lake Committee.
Is an outright closure better than having an organization run it with its own ideals? questioned the group. Members, however, recognized the opportunity of AB 42 and were supportive of the flexibility the bill would give the state to keep parks open.
In a follow-up phone call this week with Commissioner Danna Stroud, she clarified that the group would just want the operator to be open to diverse interests.
“We just need to evaluate who would be best [for an operation agreement] based on AB 42 criteria,” Stroud said. “Sometimes it can be perceived that mission-driven objectives may get in the way of operation.”
Governor Jerry Brown must still sign the bill for it to become effective. Brown has until Oct. 6 to pen his signature on the document.
The Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve has been listed on the state park closure list that was published earlier this year. The park closures were deemed necessary by the state due to its budget cuts. Full park closures related to the budget reductions are expected to occur by July 2012.