Access to the outdoors and nature ought to be a birthright for all Californians. Many of us are fortunate and privileged that we have been to, or can easily access, places that are the envy of the world.
We enjoy the migratory birds nesting in the remaining wetlands and grasslands of the great Central Valley. We admire the spectacularly quirky Joshua trees and native plants in the almost magical desolation of the Mojave and Sonoran deserts. We hike through majestic groves of giant sequoias and redwoods and are entranced by the crash of waves along our iconic coast at sunset.
But it is easy to overlook the hard-fought battles to preserve these places and, more importantly, make them accessible to everyone. A truism within the conservation community is that a willingness to preserve is inextricably tied to witnessing nature first hand and experiencing its awe and benefits.
This is why we at Latino Outdoors and Azul fought for Assembly Bill 2534 by Assemblywoman Monique Limón, a Democrat from Santa Barbara. We urge Gov. Jerry Brown to sign it. The bill would:
- Establish the Outdoor Equity Grant Funding Program to increase equitable access to outdoor environmental education experiences at our public lands for low-income and at-risk youth, and
- Create two accounts that will be a repository for funding to facilitate the Coastal Access Program for Hollister Ranch, which was passed by the Legislature and signed by Brown in 1982 but never implemented.
These two issues are part and parcel to the objective of providing equitable access to the outdoors for all Californians.
Thanks to the wisdom and foresight of the California voters who approved the Coastal Initiative in 1972, followed by the enactment of the Coastal Act signed by Brown in 1976, California’s Constitution expressly protects the right of all Californians to access all of its beaches and waterways.
But the reality is that the birthright I mentioned earlier does not apply to all of California’s natural lands. Hollister Ranch in Santa Barbara County, Opal Cliffs in Santa Cruz County, and Martins Beach in San Mateo County are current examples of how the wealthy intentionally block access to the coast.
We care deeply about the protection of public lands and understand the importance of policy-making in the public interest to achieve these goals. We were intentional in being involved in the process.
Legislators approved Assembly Bill 2534 without any rule waivers, within the regular legislative deadlines, and allowed for sufficient time for public review. There was a policy committee hearing where provisions were discussed at length. The bill does not interfere with the litigation.
Gov. Brown first signed legislation 36 years to provide access to the 8.5 mile stretch of the coast at Hollister Ranch. Now, by signing AB 2534, Brown has an opportunity to make good on that promise of ensuring equitable access to our public lands for all Californians, especially those who are least able to do so.
José González is the founder of Latino Outdoors, a Latino-led organization working to create leaders in conservation and outdoor education and connecting families to nature, [email protected]. He wrote this commentary for CALmatters.