October 24, 1996

Board of Directors and Planning/Stewardship Department

East Bay Regional Park District

2950 Peralta Oaks Court

P.O. Box 5381

Oakland, California 94605-0381

Re: Draft Master Plan 1996


I just re-read my November 9, 1995 letter to you on this Master Plan revision. One hundred percent of it is still valid. Please append that letter to my current comments. In other words, you didn't listen to any of it. It is obvious that you have no intention of listening to any comments, unless they conform to your basic goal of turning all of our parks and the precious resources they contain into human playgrounds. Although you pay it lip service, protection and restoration of wildlife and wildlife habitat is your lowest priority. This is clearly visible in your conversion of essential habitat to golf curses (was that typo just an accident?), campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots, roads (which you euphemistically call "trails"), and "firebreaks". It is blatant, when a threatened Alameda whipsnake is killed by a mountain biker at Black Diamond Mines, and your park supervisor says it's "not significant".

We are in the midst of an extinction crisis. The IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources), publisher of the Red Data Books, recently reported that one quarter of all animal species in the world are threatened with extinction. But you needn't worry about that, because, as Director Jocelyn Combs says, "Parks Are For People".

Most of this threat is due to loss of habitat. This can consist of complete destruction of the habitat, such as when it is turned into a campground, or simply the presence of too many people too much of the time, causing the wildlife to abandon the area. In Alameda and Contra Costa Counties, where your parks are located, wildlife have already lost approximately 95% of their habitat. The regional parks, and a few other "protected" areas, are their last refuge. Obviously, they can't afford to lose any more. But, of course, that is not your concern, since "Parks Are For People".

Why is this important? Besides the obvious moral obligation to protect the other species with whom we share the Earth, and on which we are heavily dependent, you can't have a "park" without wildlife (i.e., all nonhuman, nondomesticated species). It would be nothing but a pile of rocks! Have you visited a quarry lately? Did you have fun? Just as you can't have much of a marriage unless you ensure that your spouse is healthy and happy, wildlife need to be given top priority in our parks and other remnant habitat areas. (I see no reason why protecting wildlife and wildlife habitat couldn't be the only purpose of the Park District; that is the sine qua non that makes all other park uses possible!) The East Bay Municipal Utility District manages to do that, on their watershed lands; why can't you? Oh, I forgot: parks are for people.

Expanding the park system seems like a good thing, until one realizes that your primary goal is to increase human access to the parks. When dealing with wildlife, the most important viewpoint is that of the wildlife themselves. Clearly, they prefer, and hence need, to be left alone. Fostering expanding the number of human (and domesticated animal) visitors to the parks, expanding our area of influence, expanding "visiting hours" (e.g. by allowing overnight camping), and allowing mechanical aids (e.g. mountain bikes or climbing equipment) that make access to wilderness areas easier, can only drive our local wildlife closer to extinction.

Humans are relatively flexible; we can satisfy our needs in many ways. In particular, most of the "needs" that are satisfied by the parks (e.g. for golfing, archery, horseback riding, bicycling, swimming, camping, and picnicking, etc.) can also be met by other means, and therefore should be met by other means. Parks are not profit-making businesses, that have to continually attract new uses and new users, and maximize the exploitation of their available resources. If they were, they would soon be bankrupt, just as the rest of our society is experiencing (running out of wood, seafood, drinking water, oil, farmland, etc.). Parks and other preserves must operate on exactly the opposite principle: protect and preserve all existing resources, since they cannot be recreated. Unlike us, wildlife are not very flexible, and cannot be. They need the natural environment in which they evolved -- basically, as it was when man first arrived here. They have no choice; not only can't they evolve fast enough to keep up with our changes to their environment, but they have nowhere else to go! But since parks are for people, who cares?

For some reason, a large proportion of the District staff, from General Manager Pat O'Brien on down, seem to believe that they are operating a major resource-exploiting corporation, and that they need to maximize the use of those resources (by humans, of course!), and in particular, that they need to devote a great deal of energy to protecting and perpetuating their jobs, rather than to protecting the natural resources on which the entire "empire" is constructed. Where did they get these crazy ideas? Certainly not by consulting the wildlife.

Anyone who loves nature will be sickened by this master plan. It is basically a blank check to allow the Park District to do anything they want -- to continue moving the District toward the Disneyland or Marine World model -- to give the public anything it wants. It doesn't contain a single restraint or performance standard! We are apparently just supposed to trust you! The Draft document is full of lies and meaningless words: "expanding ... camping opportunities by carefully adding new sites" (p.22), "provide a balanced system of regional parks" (p.25), "strike the appropriate balance between protection and recreation", "the ... level of resource protection or recreational use appropriate for the area", and "will classify ... parklands" (p.31), "create strategies ... that improve service to the region" (p.39), and "growing demand for services" (p.50). None of these vague, propagandistic terms are defined. Since you don't promise to adhere to any performance standards, we have no way to tell if, for example, you have added a new campsite "carefully" enough! You have proven untrustworthy many times in the past (e.g. Assistant General Manager Jerry Kent cut down a tree on top of Vollmer Peak, and then called it "trimming" the tree). Why should we trust you in the future?

The problem with letting the "public" dictate what happens in the parks is that the most important part of that "public" is never consulted, in fact is never even "at the table": wildlife. (I guess that's because parks are for people.) Almost every speaker at the hearing I attended was asking you to satisfy some selfish need of theirs. (E.g. the mountain bikers wanted you to change the term "footpath" to "single-track trail", because they think that will make it easier for them to get access to those trails!) You should listen to people, but you should be able to put their requests in the proper perspective, and not feel that you have to comply with every request. And you should pay the most attention to people like me and Mr. Flasher, who speak up for those who can't defend themselves -- wildlife, for example, and the dead (fossils and native American remains). You are under no obligation to satisfy every human need within the parks. Parks are, in fact, for satisfying needs that cannot be satisfied elsewhere.

The most disturbing thing about the plan is that it is full of lies. This is the kind of thing we expect from a dictatorship or "banana republic", not from a supposedly democratic institution! Is preserving your jobs that critical, that you are willing to jettison all of the values that made this country great?

Premier among those lies is the one big lie on which the entire plan is based: that you can have your cake, and eat it, too: that you can use natural resources, and at the same time preserve them: "to maintain a careful balance between the recreational use of parklands and the need to protect and conserve them for all to enjoy" (p.1). The key to maintaining this lie is that you call all of your incremental changes "insignificant" (such as the killing of a threatened snake), ignoring the fact that, since the parks are finite, those so-called "insignificant" changes soon add up to very significant damage. A sampling of other lies: "Populations of listed species will be monitored through periodic observations of their condition, size, habitat, reproduction, and distribution" (p.11); "Park improvements will be designed to avoid or minimize impacts on wildlife habitats, plant populations, and other resources" (p.40); and "lower intensity recreational activities (like ... backpack and horseback camping, riding, and bicycling)" (p.42).

Also disturbing is the great emphasis you place on money. The only reason you require so much of it, is that the parks are managed like human playgrounds. Almost every Board agenda contains a request for the purchase of another motor vehicle! One dangerous aspect of this trend is that you are now considering "selling" the parks to the highest bidder: "the District will seek gifts, grants, and other forms of financial and operational support, including possible site development and operation by others" (p.22); "Leases will be negotiated to ... maximize revenue to the District" (p.48); "Actively seek individual, business and corporate sponsorships" (p.52). If you don't have any performance standards, and haven't lived up to those you had in the past, I can imagine how well outside commercial and other interests will be concerned with protecting the natural resources in the parks!

The bottom line is that the plan has a lot of verbiage dedicated to making a good impression, but current District management is not sustainable, so the expanded resource exploitation proposed in this plan, containing even fewer standards and constraints than exist today, will be even less sustainable. And I can't see how this situation can be fixed, short of firing the current General Manager and Assistant General Manager, and starting over. Does the Board have the guts to tell the truth, and do what is right? I doubt it, because most of them seem to agree that "Parks Are For People".


Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.



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