Park Closings: Real or Political Tactic? 

The governor's proposal to close most of California's state parks would only put a small dent in the state's $24 billion budget problem.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's is proposing to close most of California's 279 state parks as part of a plan to solve the state's severe budget problems. But the proposal is already sparking an uproar, in part because it would only save California's general fund about $150 million at a time when the state is facing a $24 billion crisis. In other words, shutting down most of the state's parks, from towering redwoods forests to pristine beaches, will solve less than 1 percent of the problem. Which makes one wonder whether Schwarzenegger is serious about the idea, or if he's simply using it as a scare tactic in order to coerce both Democrats and Republicans back to the bargaining table.

Closing state parks will be extremely unpopular, especially in a steep recession. Camping or spending a day at a beautiful state park is one of the few cheap and fun things that most people can still afford to do. It's also no secret that conservatives love the park system just as much as liberals. In fact, it's about the only thing in the budget that's apolitical, and so the threat of closing parks may be the best way to goad both sides into negotiating a new financial agreement. The question is whether the threat of closing the parks will convince conservatives to support tax increases necessary to help balance the budget. It's a tough call, since Republicans, including the governor, view the defeat of last month's budget measures as a repudiation of tax hikes.

Gay Marriage Fight Rages On

In case you were out of the country or living under a rock last week, the big — but not surprising — news was that the state Supreme Court decided to keep same-sex marriage illegal in California. The court voted 6-1 to uphold Proposition 8, the statewide ballot measure that banned gay marriage and overturned last year's high-court decision to legalize same-sex nuptials. The court also ruled last week that the 18,000 gay marriages performed in 2008 while same-sex unions were legal are still valid.

That double standard also prompted a federal civil rights lawsuit by a lesbian couple from Berkeley. Kris Perry and Sandy Stier not only want to overturn Prop. 8, they want gay marriage legalized throughout the country. But what really made their case newsworthy was that one of their lawyers is Ted Olson, US solicitor general under George W. Bush and Bush's lead lawyer in Bush v. Gore, the truly awful US Supreme Court ruling that decided the 2000 presidency. As a staunch conservative and a former Bush crony, Olson's defense of gay marriage was surprising to say the least. Olson explained to reporters last week that he has believed for some time that not allowing gays to marry is wrong.

The battle over gay marriage also promises to dominate next year's California gubernatorial campaign. At the end of last week, it looked like state Attorney General Jerry Brown would be going head-to-head with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage, following a report that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa had decided not to run for the Democratic nomination. Newsom's strong stance on gay nuptials might give him an edge among liberals and progressives in the June 2010 primary, but it also could prove to be controversial in the general election campaign if a measure to overturn Prop. 8 also is on the ballot.

Good-Bye Cerrito, Hello Parkway?

Just days after the Cerrito Speakeasy Theater in El Cerrito closed its doors, a group of investors emerged to possibly take over Oakland's Parkway Speakeasy Theater, which shuttered in March. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Motion Picture Heritage, the Indiana-based umbrella group to which the new investors belong, is dedicated to preserving independent community movie houses, primarily in the Midwest. The connection between the Parkway and MPH was sparked by longtime Parkway programmer Will Viharo and fostered by Oakland City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan. But before the deal can go through, there's a long list of necessary repairs, including plumbing and electrical overhauls. Unfortunately, neither the current landlords nor the new investors are flush with funds. But if a deal somehow gets done, we have two questions: Will the Parkway still sell pizza and beer, and what about the Cerrito?

Three-Dot Roundup

The long-awaited Berkeley Bowl West is set to open Thursday, June 4, at the corner of Ninth and Anthony streets, not far from the intersection of Ashby and San Pablo avenues. ... Five top-ranking Oakland police officials are under investigation for their roles in the ill-advised raid in which suspected cop-killer Lovelle Mixon shot and killed two SWAT team members in March, according to the Oakland Tribune. ... A BART officer testified that Oscar Grant could have prevented his own death at the hands of ex-BART cop Johannes Mehserle if he had not resisted arrest. However, videotapes of the incident contradicted Marysol Domenici's testimony, which came in a hearing to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to put Mehserle on trial for murder. ... And speaking of trials, there will be none for state Senator Don Perata after the US Attorney's Office in Sacramento announced that it would not file charges against him, thereby ending the five-year public corruption probe (for more, see "Why Was the Case Against Perata Abandoned?" page 9).


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