September 5, 1993
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
Oakland, California 94605-5369
Re: "Parks are for people" (Jocelyn Combs)
I takes a great deal of hubris to not only come up with such an amazing display of ignorance, but to advertise it so proudly! Who would have imagined that the Board of Directors of such a prominent park system would have to be lectured on the nature of parks by someone whose only qualification is a willingness to think and to observe the obvious?
Wildlife make a park. Without wildlife (I include all forms of nonhuman life), 99% of the attractiveness of our parks would vanish. A few prehistoric artifacts and some rocks of interest only to a geologist would be all that was left to call a "park". A few weeks ago I saw the first rattlesnake I have ever seen in the Berkeley hills (on a fire road on University property). I remember nothing else that happened to me that day! Wildlife make one's experience in the park memorable and enjoyable, and the "wilder" the better. Golf courses, bulldozed "fire roads", parking lots, buildings, commercial concessions, and even the presence of most other humans lessen, denature, and devalue the experience. Human amenities can be found in abundance in nearby towns, for those who want them. Most of us go to the park to get away from them! Why fill the parks with the very things we are trying to escape?
EBRPD's current policies do nothing to preserve this wildlife, and quite a bit to continue the relentless decline that man's presence has always engendered. I don't have a list of all of the species that we have driven to extinction in the Bay Area, but I am sure that you do. Even the few areas of the parks that contain "official" Endangered Species are not protected, nor is sufficient area devoted to their habitat and travel needs. Why isn't the same care given the California Newt on South Park Drive (only during the rainy season) afforded the Alameda Whipsnake and the Alameda Manzanita? (Well, even that is questionable, since mountain bikers are allowed right through the middle of the newt's migration route!)
The excuse is always given that the incursion is not "significant". However, simple mathematics will tell you that when a given resource is finite (the 75,000 acre area of the parks is the upper bound), any process that erodes it, even grain by grain, will eventually exhaust it. New golf courses are never "significant"; new parking lots are never "significant"; erosion from mountain bike races is not "significant". But, of course, we don't have to make our homes in the parks. Wildlife does. To them, surely, such insults are significant, which is why so many species have already disappeared.
Administrators of wilderness areas long ago began a quota system, in order to protect those areas from destruction. If EBRPD doesn't stop trying to promote greater park usage (!), we will either end up with nothing worth protecting, or have to ration park usage in the same fashion. General Manager Pat O'Brien wants to "make future generations aware of the environment", but apparently doesn't see the contradiction between giving people unlimited access to the parks, and having parks worth visiting. It is hard to believe that you could actually consider creating a 50-acre parking lot in order to host the Renaissance Pleasure Faire.
I haven't seen any discussion of exactly why you need to raise more money. But I can imagine. At a time when police departments all over the country are discovering that they can send out dozens of police on bicycles for the cost of one patrol car (and provide better law enforcement and better community relations), your park staff doesn't seem to be able to do anything without trucks, bulldozers, and other motor vehicles. Somehow I doubt that very much that really must be done to the parks requires motor vehicles. The very fact that you own so many vehicles indicates that the parks are mismanaged. Unemployment and homelessness are endemic in California. In such circumstances, it is criminal to use machinery, when we could really take care of people (and save money at the same time) by hiring them for the jobs we have given to the internal combustion engine!
Please take a hard look at all of your expenses, before prostituting the parks! Far preferable to turning our few remaining wildlife habitats into vapid amusement parks, would be to simply close them to all human access, and allow what little wildlife exists there to recover. All fire roads should be allowed to revegetate and become minimally intrusive paths. Roads fragment wildlife habitat and force many animals (afraid to appear in an open, highly visible area) to restrict their range, thereby reducing biodiversity.
Considering how few fires we have, controlled burns, helicopters (hired only when needed), and foot (or bike) access can handle fire danger. Considering how little of our parks are accessible by fire road, the excuse that the roads are needed for fire suppression doesn't hold water. National parks don't contain fire roads, so why should our parks? Fire departments and legal departments shouldn't be allowed to set park policy. I haven't met a fireman or lawyer yet who could create as much joy and learning as a ranger like Tim Gordon, Alan Kaplan, or Linda Yemoto. Have you?
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.