While basking in the glow of his latest legislative victories designed to safeguard the environment, California Gov. Jerry Brown drew the curtains on those of us whose environs include the San Joaquin River.
On Brown’s desk earlier this week was a bill that would have expanded Millerton Lake State Recreation Area to include the San Joaquin River Parkway.
But instead of signing the bill into law and providing the framework to funnel resources to a region of California that has been long underserved by our state parks, the governor vetoed it.
“Regardless of whether the state entity manages the land or not,” Brown wrote in his veto message, “creating true public access to the San Joaquin River and the 5,900 acres adjacent to it can only be achieved if money is available and if private landowners are willing to sell. This bill, unfortunately, does not change this.”
Between his recent executive order establishing a statewide goal to achieve complete carbon neutrality by 2045 and signing S.B. 100, which commits California to emissions-free sources of electricity, Brown must not have taken the time to study our little conundrum.
Because if he did, he wouldn’t sound like someone with a view from 30,000 feet.
Brown isn’t technically wrong. We’re still a long way from “true public access” along the San Joaquin River Parkway since much of the property remains in private hands. It’s just that his reasoning ignores the current, unfortunate reality.
Since the creation of the San Joaquin River Conservancy in 1992, more than $33 million of public money has already been spent on acquiring land along the river between Friant Dam and Highway 99. Another $29 million on planning, design, habitat restoration and outdoor education projects.
Yet all that money, mostly in the form of state bonds, has provided the people of Fresno and Madera counties with scant access since it can’t be spent on maintenance, operations or public safety.
Bringing the San Joaquin River Parkway under the state parks umbrella would have changed all that.
It’s fine to think globally and act locally, as Brown is fond of saying. But sometimes you have to think and act locally, especially when those locals have gotten the short end of the stick from Sacramento for far too long.
“I’m not sure why (the bill wasn’t signed), and I’m disappointed,” Arambula said. “We’re going to have to figure out how to communicate and advocate to the next administration in a more effective way. I believe that having them see it first hand and hearing from more of us in our community will get us there.”
The good news for those of us who long for the day when we’ll be able to walk, bike or picnic along a river parkway – just like the residents of Sacramento, Bakersfield and many other California cities do – is that Arambula will keep plugging away.
The Democrat plans to reintroduce the same policy legislation next year along with an accompanying budget proposal. He estimates that managing the San Joaquin River Parkway will cost the state between $5 and $7 million per year.
“I think it’s long past time,” Arambula said. “As we continue to spend public resources on a (parkway) for the last 26 years, I think it’s time that we get some public good out of it.”
Sharon Weaver, executive director of the nonprofit San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, also expressed disappointment over the governor’s veto. At the same time she’s encouraged by what she’s seen from Arambula.
“I just really appreciate his commitment to the cause,” Weaver said. “He really wants to make something happen, and that’s fantastic because we really haven’t had a state legislator since (Jim) Costa went to Washington that has really been committed to doing work on the parkway.”
Another encouraging development was the bipartisan support the bill received from Valley lawmakers. Following some initial concerns over eminent domain and other property issues, Republicans Jim Patterson, Frank Bigelow, Devon Mathis and Andy Vidak all voted in favor. (Tom Berryhill did not cast a vote on the senate floor.) In addition, the bill was supported by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors and the Fresno City Council.
In other words, every politician was in favor of turning the San Joaquin River Parkway into a state park except for the one whose signature mattered most: Gov. Brown’s.
Kind of strange, isn’t it? Especially for someone who has spent his entire political career championing the environment. So thanks for nothing, governor.
Guess we’ll have to solve the San Joaquin River Parkway puzzle without him.
Marek Warszawski: 559-441-6218, @MarekTheBee