Since late last year, I've told just about everyone that Governor Jerry Brown hasn't done enough on the state parks issue. As of today, I'm singing a new tune.
Last week, Governor Brown appointed a new director of the California Department of Parks and Recreation to lead the troubled and underfunded system of 279 parks out of its darkest era.
On Friday, I had a chance to meet the new director over lunch. My first impression: Governor Brown, Resources Secretary John Laird, and the governor's appointments staff all have earned an A for finding and appointing the new director.
This guy appears to have what it will take.
His name is Tony Jackson. For 36 years, he was a member of the U.S. Marine Corps, rising to the rank of two-star major general. So why, I initially wondered, would the governor appoint a military guy to run parks? Seemed like an odd fit to me.
Now, after learning more about Jackson, it doesn't seem an odd fit at all.
He has thrived in a complex organization embedded with protocol and politics. He has had to inspire people to do better, and has had to lead people to achieve a common vision.
These are all strong pluses. But will he appreciate the important ecological resources in the park system's 1.4 million acres?
In one of his last jobs with the Marines, he oversaw the Marine bases in the western U.S. That meant overseeing management of thousands of acres of wild lands that provide habitat to dozens of threatened and endangered species. Camp Pendleton, in Northern San Diego County, alone boasts 125,000 acres and at least 17 endangered species.
He has had to balance the need for preserving the environment with competing demands at the bases he oversaw. He earned high marks for an important role he took in stopping the construction of a toll road that would have run through San Onofre State Beach and Camp Pendleton and some especially sensitive habitat.
He appears to have the green heart needed. His wife is a native plant aficionado and lover of the outdoors and the state's natural heritage. She has had a huge influence on his thinking, he said.
Some are already talking to Jackson about the opportunity he has to re-envision the park system. My own take is that the park system doesn't so much need re-envisioning as it needs a good leader who can help inspire employees. It needs someone who can restore public faith and excite all of us about the value of our state parks. It needs someone who has the governor's ear and respect.
I asked Jackson what I should be telling Sierra Club members about him. He said, laughing, that I should tell everyone that he's a nice guy. I can say with a straight face that he is that. But I also think he may be exactly the right man at the right time for state parks.
Kathryn Phillips, Director
Sierra Club California
Sierra Club California is the Sacramento-based legislative and regulatory advocacy arm of the 13 California chapters of the Sierra Club.