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.

Interview Highlights

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

  • Lowell Landowski

    Why did we keep buying millions of dollars of new Parklands, since 2007, while we kept on proposing to close Park Units?. We could have applied to reprogram and use those funds to upgrade and fixed parks, called capital improvments. We could have applied to use the hidden funds to do the same. Instead of using shoe string and gum to fix broken restrooms, pipes, roads, trails and roofs. We could have installed new roofs, rebuilt roads, and built modern restrooms. We could have installed new pipes and drains, instead of just fixing leaks from old pipes, They added dozens of new managers, and promoted them rapidly, while cutting the low paid grunts, who do the work.

    The poor performing managers at State Parks are still around in droves, Under the forgivenes plan, let’s put this behind us plan, virtually all the bad acting managers at State Parks, get to keep their ill gotten promotions, vacation buyouts, unauthorized overtime, and extra retirement benefits. The key managers get to keep their jobs, they got after retirement, with one of the 3P Public Private Partership organizations, who took over parks, that never needed to be “closed,” in the first place, due to a lack of funds.

    We get lumped together with the petty favored players, the honest workers at Parks, The spin is we were dumb and afraid, so “We have to take some hits in the audits” for what?. The rank and files, except for a favored few, do not deserve any blame, for the mess at Parks, caused by several dozen Managers who took advantage of the “system.” “We” were not a beneficary of the decade long system of petty favortism at State Parks, “We” were victims of it.

    i like our new Director, he seems sincere, but he needs to do some real cleaing up of the mess at Parks, and not just let virtually all the advantage taking managers at Parks get away scott free. Having a half dozen top level bosses retire does not do justice, to the those who suffered at the hands of many dozens less than honerable managers at parks, who are stil around and remain untouched, and have kept all the gains, from their many misdeeds.

    The good workers at Parks are owed a true house cleaning of the corrupt and inept managers at Parks, who did all this bad stuff, and an apology. We were not all in this together, we were not in on the system of petty favortism at State Parks. Hire more grunts and let go of some managers; actually most of them deserve to go, the way they performed their jobs in the recent years.. To heal our Parks, General, you must first win back the lost trust of us grunts, that we have in your current managers; the State Parks Management, that let us down, and treated us so badly, for so very long.

    • Caroline Cheung

      Hi Lowell! Let us know if you hear of any grants for small cities? We here in Brisbane have a lot of projects that our Parks and Recreation Commission want to get completed, and we need State Parks to help us get those done. I enjoyed working with you on our last athletic field restroom project!

      • Lowell Landowski

        We are out of grant programs with funds to grant out, except of Land and Water, Rec. Trails, and Habitat Conservation Fund grants, The Prop. 12, 40, and 84 bonds are all granted out.

        On prop. 84 we had several times the dollar amount in applications, over what we had to grant out. I think what the local agencies need to do is pool their projects, and come up with a new Parks bond initiative, some day. Maybe we need to take a look at all the great projects that did not get funded, and the local park improvement needs, like your Parks & Rec. Commission is looking at. Perhaps the Parks and Recreation Society could help or be a catalyst for this. The local park needs are there, they just need to be defined, so people can understand what they are voting to fund, and what they will get for their tax dollars.

        Study after study demonstrates that park improvements generate 4 dollars, in community economic benefits, for every dollar spent on parks. The Philadelphia study is a good example of this, as are the studies from Texas and Arizona. Property values go up, with good parks in the neighborhoods, so property taxes go up too, as well as local sales taxes, because the communities are better places to live and visit. The Parks community should not just accept Parks in decline, as the new norm.

  • kmueda

    I’d like to know what Mr. Jackson’s policy is on situations when the department’s priorities seem to be in conflict. The proposed expansion of the Carnegie Vehicular Recreation Area east of Livermore meets the needs of the department’s SVRA program, but seems to contradict the department’s larger goal to preserve the state’s natural resources, given the numerous threatened species that reside in the area that would most likely be negatively impacted by off road vehicle traffic (California Tiger Salamander, California Red-legged Frog, Western Spadefoot toad, numerous threatened plants). If Mr Jackson has any comments on this particular park I’d like to hear them too.

    -Ken-ichi, from Oakland

    • paul

      There is little or no conflict. The charter of state parks is twofold, 1)to provide outdoor recreation opportunities for all Californians, and 2) allowing this recreation on lands while minimizing impacts.
      SVRAs are a true gem in California, used by residents here and out of state, financially supporting local towns and counties. I personally enjoy both our traditional parks and SVRAs. But all human activity has some kind of “impact”.

      To be consistent in your concern over wildlife protection, please note that almost ALL state parks and beaches have an affect on local wildlife. Remember state parks also have paved & unsurfaced access roads, parking lots, restrooms, ranger’s resisdence(s), water, power, sewage, garbage collection. They also utilize acres land for campgrounds and miles of trails and beaches for hiking and walking with or without our pets.

      We’ve all seen wildlife in our parks. I’ve see wildlife in the SVRAs. State Beaches have the wildlife impacts too. Seals and humans share the beach (parks will sometime close a beach area for nursing pinnipeds).

      If you concern is indeed so deep-seated, then, really, you should lobby to close all our state parks, keep out all human activity, and make folks stay indoors and see the world from their TVs and computer screens. And then, why not shut down freeways & highways, farms and ranches, they all use land, have a huge affect on wildlife, probably much more than parks or SVRAs ever did.

      Then there’s homes near or in our beautiful redwood groves and creeks (think Santa Cruz, San Mateo, Marin County, in the Bay Area anyway), and along our coast & Sierras. Should we ask these folks to move, and tear down their homes? Just the acres newly ‘lost’ to housing our state’s growing population is 1000’s of times more impact any proposed state park or SVRA expansion.

      • kmueda

        Hey Paul, I hear you, parks involve some level of impact on the local ecosystem, and I understand and support the department’s mandate to provide recreation for all Californians. That said, if you check out the department’s mission statement at http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=91, there’s a clear emphasis on preserving biological diversity and natural resources, not just recreational opportunities. As you point out, human activity almost always impacts biological diversity and natural resources, so I definitely see some conflict, and I wanted to hear General Jackson’s opinion on how he will handle such conflicts.

        Carnegie is a special case, though, in my opinion. I’m not sure if you’ve been there or driven past it before, but off-trail use is rampant. Check out the satellite imagery to see what I’m talking about: http://goo.gl/maps/bDxMb. Of all the impacts human activity in parks have on the local biota, this has got to be among the highest. As I said, there are plants and animals living there that both the state and federal governments consider threatened (not to mention international bodies like the IUCN). I don’t see how allowing one of the most destructive forms of recreation in an area housing some of our most imperiled native organisms balances the department’s recreational and conservation mandates.

        And yeah, I totally agree there are bigger conservation gains to be made by reigning in residential development. It’s just particularly galling to me to see the tax dollars I *thought* I was paying to preserve our natural legacy go toward supporting its destruction.

        • paul

          kmieda, thanks for your reply. YOUR tax dolllars are not going to SVRAs. SVRAs are funded differently than regular State Parks. The majority of the cost of operating, environmentally improving, and expanding (very infrequent) SVRAs, are NOT paid be general state revenues or taxes, but specifically by a tiny percentage of gasoline taxes collected in Calif, and SVRA entrance fees. They are not funded with general revenue accounts. The percentage of gas taxes collected by Calif for SRVAs is exactly proportional to the calculated gallons consumed within the SVRAs and some other OHV areas in Calif by vehicles driven in them. This account is known as the “OHV Trust Fund”.

          (recall the “hidden” funds, of which State Park’s had $20 Mil, and OHV has some $34Mil ? That $34mil of the original $54 mil found last year cannot be used in state parks, but only SVRAs, since it is legally part of the OHV Trust Fund.)

          Back to point: Your Calif taxes are not used for SVRAs — SVRA USERS pay for for SVRAs. So no worries…

          As for the “destructive forms of of recreation” comment, as said: Then what are trails, roads, parking lots, motels, and infrastructure within State (and National) parks? What is ‘destructive’, really?

          Farmland, ranches, dams, roads, homes, they all are. Why would an SVRA be considered any more destructive than, for example, a 500 acre farm in the the central valley that gets plowed over and over, year after year? There’s plenty of that showing on google earth too.

          Indeed there are some who disobey the rules, and do not stay on trials, as they should. This is being addressed much more now than 10 years ago. But government does not permanently close a I-880 or 101 freeway just because some stupid drunk caused an accident? We clean up the mess, fix it, and re-open the road for everyone else and move on.

          I will look at the URLs you noted.

          • kmueda

            Thanks for the info about SVRA funding, I wasn’t aware the gas tax was actually proportional to the amount of gas expended in SVRAs, which is pretty interesting. I wonder how they estimate that.

            I’m not criticizing all SVRAs, just Carnegie, since that’s the only one I’ve seen. There, it looks like off-trail riding has damaged about a 3rd or more of the surface area (that’s my guestimate, but if anyone has a firm number, it would be good to hear it). I’d say that’s quite a bit more damage by percent area than the usual run of of roads, trails, buildings, parking lots, etc.

            I realize (or at least presume) that most people at Carnegie stay on the trails, but the damage done by the few who don’t is huge. I don’t think we should close all SVRAs, but I do think Carnegie could have been sited in a less ecologically sensitive area, and that expanding it will only make things worse.

            Do you know if other SVRAs have less off-trail use? If so, what do you think they’re doing to prevent it? I’m also curious how much you think SVRA visitors appreciate or even know about the local flora and fauna. Are their signs or interpretive programs? I’m (obviously) not an off-road enthusiast, so I honestly don’t know much about the demographics.

          • paul

            The formula that calculates the proportion of gasoline used at SVRAs, and thus the Calif tax on it for the OHV trust fund, is complex. It was heavily debated about 5 years ago. The new formula actually provides less revenue, proportionally, than it did before it was debated. (that’s a whole new topic).

            Carnegie SVRA is sited near to a munitions/chemical factory, that was originally constructed during World War 2, I know little about it. A guess is almost no one was interested in the land across from this factory, except perhaps ranching. The state acquired the property in 1979. (The wikipedia entry on Carnegie SVRA is pretty reasonable, tough it does not mention the factory)

            In general, within SVRAs & all OHV areas, off-road vehicles are not allowed to drive upon any vegetation, and must stay on officially established & designated trails & open areas. The large majority of OHV users know this and obey it. There are signs in the parks for this.

            FROM: http://ohv.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=1172 :

            “…In 1998 more than 3,000 acres located west of the current riding area were purchased by the state as part of Carnegie SVRA. The Alameda-Tesla Expansion Project will provide increased OHV recreational opportunities at Carnegie SVRA including a multiple use (i.e., motorcycles, ATVs, 4×4 vehicles, sports utility vehicles) trail system, a 4×4 vehicle obstacle course, a day-use staging area, and interpretive and informational facilities.

            Currently in the planning phase, this project has received considerable input from OHV user groups, adjacent landowners and a variety of regulatory agencies. Because the property contains sensitive cultural and natural resources, it is imperative that visitors adhere to the “trail riding only” requirement once the area is opened. With the continued support of OHV enthusiasts this significant addition to Carnegie SVRA and to the statewide SVRA system will ensure that riding opportunities are available for years to come…”

  • Tyler

    Hey TJ, Excited to have new energy on board. Beyond providing transparency to the operating budget, what is your vision for a new & sustainable CA State Parks system and how they serve the community in 2013 and beyond?

  • Matt G

    Maybe a good solution is having less maintenance and policing and to open the lands as unmaintained wilderness areas.

  • Lowell Landowski

    The general did not address the vacation buyouts, the improper overtime, the droves of out of class and general promotions, the big promotions, during the final year of work to pad the favored’s retirement pay, the adding of dozens of new managers, buying milllions of dollars of land for new parks and additions, while threatening to close existing parks, avoiding federal park closure protections, and the jobs after retirement, with 3Ps Public Private Parterships, for key State Parks Managers. Grunts got moved out, families and all, from their jobs at Parks, that did not need to closed in the first place, due to a lack of funds.. Perhaps the final audit will say something about all this, but who really cares, besides God Almighty?

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