October 20, 1992
Board of Directors
East Bay Regional Park District
2950 Peralta Oaks Court
Oakland, California 94605-5369
Re: Your "Human Playground" theory of park management
For many years, I assumed that our parks were well managed, and didn't need my attention. This naivete ended abruptly one day when I happened to overhear two people in the Steam Train parking lot discussing which trees to cut down (to expand the parking lot!). Rather than places that are "special", our parks are nowadays almost indistinguishable from any other part of our automobile-white-male-human-industrial-exploitation-dominated culture. And the Board of Directors closely resembles the board of any other natural-resource-exploiting corporation. In case you think I'm exaggerating, please read on:
Access to the regional parks and to the Board of Directors is arranged to be convenient only to the rich (auto users). It is extremely inconvenient to get to the Park Headquarters by public transit. Board meetings are held there, and only during the day. This is perfectly designed to minimize public input and oversight. The Headquarters and Board meetings should be moved to the MTC (across from Lake Merritt BART station) -- they have too much space anyway, which is primarily devoted to destroying the environment through freeway expansion; meetings should be held in the evening or on Saturday morning. I had to use a day of my vacation to come here today.
Although there is a bus to Tilden, the day I rode it, only one other person rode to the park with me. The parking lot, on the other hand, was full of cars. Auto users are subsidized by your providing ample free parking (sounds like an ad for a shopping mall!) and an abundance of road space. The Tilden Park brochure devotes a large amount of space to a map showing how to drive to the park, but contains not one word about how to get there by public transit! It should say "please leave your car at home; cars are very destructive to the park wildlife; take A/C Transit bus # 67 ..." etc. The brochure "Regional Parks" omits mention of several transit companies that provide service near the parks, such as County Connection (in Contra Costa County).
Arrogance seems to be endemic (probably a sign of an ageing bureaucracy -- BART, Caltrans, BAAQMD, etc. are the same). Whenever I point out these problems, Board members and many employees defend the status quo and explain why "we know what's best for you and the parks". How could I know anything? I'm not an ex-forester or range manager, just a lowly park user.
The philosophy of the parks seems to be that since human beings "own" every square inch of the Earth, the parks should be managed -- purely and simply -- as human playgrounds. Wildlife, when they are mentioned at all, are sort of an afterthought -- just one more "attraction" of the parks, and one more thing to be "managed". I seem to have a collection of old park brochures. Only a couple of years ago, the first Tilden "Parkland Rule" was the one about protecting plants and animals. Now, it has fallen to 6th place, after those for motor vehicles, bicycles, dogs, and scuba diving! (I know you are shaking your head with incredulity, but I swear to God it is true!) [Ever notice how the signs announcing a town boundary give the population and altitude, but don't mention any of the animals who also live there?]
There needs to be more attention given to creating wildlife corridors. Salamanders are regularly slaughtered by cars on South Park Drive in Tilden (which is closed only when it rains, and only if someone happens to be working). Every week the traffic reporters (not the parks) announce that a deer has been run over on Highway 24 in Orinda. Who is going to stand up for our wildlife, if not the parks? We need at grade crossings for wildlife across all our roads. The roads should tunnel under the wildlife corridor, not the reverse.
Mention of rare and endangered species in the park literature is also rare and endangered. I have never seen, for example, mention of the Alameda Whipsnake. Where, in all the regional parks (or in all the Bay Area or California, for that matter) is there an area that is off limits to human beings (other than an occasional "keep off the grass -- revegetation in progress")??? It is obvious that the majority of wildlife cannot tolerate human presence. So how are we going to protect them? How are we going to protect even the food chain that we depend on for our own survival?
Wildlife and native peoples cannot protect themselves, and therefore must be given first priority. In Australia, the aborigines manage the national parks (in cooperation with the federal government). Where are the native people on the Park Board and among the employees? The Board should immediately begin creating wildlife reserves within the parks that are off limits to humans. And then also areas for native peoples who choose to preserve their culture.
The Fire Departments now seem to be in charge of the parks. Whatever they want, they get. In Carquinez Strait Regional Shoreline, I am told, they bulldozed 30 foot wide "fire roads" all over the park. Tomorrow you are having a conference on how to fireproof the parks. It should be on how to save and restore the wildlife, who should be the primary raison d'etre of the parks. You don't need a conference; I can tell you how to fireproof the parks -- just pave over them. What you need is a class in assertiveness training, so that you can stand up to the selfish homeowners who chose to put a house right next to a forest, and then expect you to fireproof it for them. The parks were there first, so they are not responsible for protecting the homeowners from themselves, any more than the federal government should spend billions to protect the fools who build on flood plains!
I heard that you cut down hundreds of trees at Lake Temescal, just because a few nearby homeowners complained about them. In the park I use most, Claremont Canyon Regional Preserve, the main trail has been bulldozed into a kind of "fire truck freeway" right through the middle of the park, and vegetation on each side of the trail, which used to provide some shade, has been ripped out (via your famous "brush hog"). It now looks more like the preparation for a housing development, than a park.
We need to remove most of the "industrial grade" facilities from the parks -- the golf courses, cows, and concessions. If we are going to provide every urban amenity, how can the parks provide the respite from excess humans that we are all seeking there??? Do picknickers really need to haul in industrial quantities of goods, in order to have a good time? Even if they insist on doing so, that can be done on the bus, which has plenty of extra room!
The experts say that in 30 years, the U.S. will have no more (economically retrievable) oil, and hence we won't have enough fuel to keep anywhere near as many vehicles on the road as we have now. Why not start making the preparations for that event now? And what better place to begin, than in the parks? The top priority should be to begin removing all but the most essential uses of motor vehicles from the parks, rip out the unnecessary roads and parking lots, and try to rescue and restore as much of our original natural resources as we can. You will be glad you did....
Michael J. Vandeman, Ph.D.