Last year, the California Department of Parks and Recreation solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations to help save parks which were allegedly in dire straits — until a $54 million surplus was found hidden in the department’s budget. The scandal prompted then-director Ruth Coleman to resign in July. Now, retired Marine Corps major general Anthony Jackson has taken over her post and hopes to set the 280-park system back on the right path.
On His Ties to the Bay Area
I'm an Army brat. I'm one of seven children. My father and mother finally decided to make their retirement home back when I was in ninth grade in Oakland, California. I was fortunate enough to go to Oakland High School, graduated from there, went to college on a football scholarship to a local Bay Area school — the Spartans of San Jose State — and graduated from there in 1971 and got my Master's degree a year later. When I was in college, I married a local gal from Lafayette, California, Susan, and she's also a San Jose State grad, and she taught in high schools in San Jose for a few years before I joined the Marine Corps. I joined the Marine Corps in 1975. The idea, the promise to her, was that I would do it for three years, and of course I retired last January 1, after 36 years, 7 months and 1 day of service to our country.
On the Financial Surplus Discovered Last Summer
The good thing, if you've been keeping up with this, either television, radio or the newspaper, is you see that the money was more or less money that sat there in various accounts. The $20 million, and then there was $36 million which was properly accounted for in the [Off Hghway Vehicle Fund], and then there was, in one investigation, I think $3.9 million that was donated money that had no tag?it was donated to state parks, but not to a specific purpose. So people, for too many years, did not spend the money, and it was in interest-bearing accounts, and they did not steal the money, so the money still exists for use. And the legislature and the governor have given us back $20 million that was in the one account, and the OHV money is still there, so we're able now to put that money back into the park system?the $20.5 million?and the $36 million is still in the Off Hghway Vehicle Fund system. So the money is still there. Just really poor accounting is the way I would put it off.
If you were to look for a silver lining in the cloud, this gives us a tremendous opportunity to make significant changes and to move forward from where we are. The history is what it is, and you can't rewrite history, but you can move forward, and I'm in the process now of developing that strategic vision with a lot of partners that will give us a 21st century park system, the envy of the world. And at the same time, I'm doing some reorganization so that we are more agile and that we have greater visibility of the budget.
On the Status of Specific Parks
Because we're in the middle of negotiating right now, I'd rather not put [the parks'] names out there because I don't even know how they necessarily feel about it, and the actual contracts are still at the staffing level, so they all haven't risen to my desk yet. I will look at every one: I will look at every recommended yes support, I will look at every recommended no report , everybody will know that I put my signature approving the use of this money. It won't be "whodunit" anymore, it will be "Tony Jackson did it," okay? I am now the official, responsible turkey for everything that happens, good or bad, in state parks. And I won't escape that responsibility, but I will be very serious about it, and I'll treat it with that special trust and confidence which comes with the commission that the Governor gave me when he appointed me to this position.
On How is Marines Background is an Advantage
Military institutions in this country are very highly respected, and I know that I represent more than myself in my decision-making, and so I understand, you know, the seriousness of the responsibility. And I think that even the fact that I wore a uniform for over 36 years, it plays well in our uniformed community within state parks as well. Being an outsider, but also having worn a uniform in service to the people, I think that the rangers and the lifeguards who wear a uniform, they feel that I'm a kindred soul with them, and I feel the same way because I know that people in uniform don't get paid scads of money, you know? And I know they do their jobs for the love and passion of what they do everyday. I mean, you think of our lifeguards — they're people that return sons and daughters on a daily basis back to their mothers on our beaches, and every day they get to play the role of superheroes, and that's kind of a same feeling that goes throughout the uniform Park Service folks. And so it actually plays well that I am a Marine, I have served, and I've found a commonality between myself and those people who are in uniform in the Park Service.
On the Importance of Natural Resources
We make a tremendous sacrifice in national treasure and material and even the lives of our young men and women, and we've been doing that for over twenty-some-odd years in the Middle East, and what it brings to your attention is that it's all about natural resources. These conflicts are a lot of times most generated by the competition that nations have for natural resources.
My last job as a Commanding General of Marine Corps Installations West put me in command of the Marine Corps bases kind of west of the Mississippi, and six of those bases are in California. So as we were rebuilding our bases and our infrastructure, we became very aware that we had to be very cognizant of energy reduction, the use of renewable energy in our construction, the preservation and wise use and recycling of water, and all of those other environmental concerns, including the plants and animals where you're putting your bases and doing your construction and doing those kinds of things, including the natural resources of places where we actually maneuver and do our training. And so you're trained to do that and accomplish the mission that Marines are preparing for at all times. And so you find ways to take care of natural resources, and I've become a big advocate of that.
Not only that, but I married a gal who is constantly reminding me — she's a member of the California Native Plant Society, her family has had a rich history of trying to preserve cultural resources of California. And so you kind of realize that the Earth is small, and if we don't manage its resources wisely, that we're quite frankly either doomed to wars or doomed to run out of the resources for future generations.
General Anthony Jackson, director of the California State Parks Department