The 2012-13 budget currently before Long Beach City Council proposes devastating cuts from El Dorado Nature Center's budget, slashing a significant portion of its total operating budget used for staffing, educational programming, community outreach, and habitat protection. For the following reasons, we urge City staff and City Council members to look critically at the proposed budget and find other means to balance the budget:
El Dorado Nature Center is a unique resource.
Considered widely as the “jewel” of Long Beach, the Nature Center is a priceless oasis for both wildlife and people throughout Southern California. With over 100 acres of natural habitat, carefully restored ecosystems, accessible trails, and an educational visitor center available to one and all, it is not only an irreplaceable marvel that Long Beach city can be truly proud of, but also serves as a shining example of just what is possible in terms of natural settings coexisting with urban development.
El Dorado Nature Center serves as a hub for environmental education.
Over 150,000 people visit the center annually, walking the trails, observing wildlife, or taking part in one of the more than 650 tours, classes or events offered. The Nature Center also hosts over 25,000 school children every year for school field trips guided by highly educated and certified naturalist staff. These hands-on tours promote environmental stewardship and are aligned to the California state educational standards and, for many urban children, serve as their very first experiences with nature.
El Dorado Nature Center serves a diverse population.
One of the priorities stated by city staff during the budgeting process has been to preserve free and subsidized programming for high-need and at-risk populations. One simply needs to visit the Nature Center on a typical weekend to realize that it is a draw for people from all walks of life and its visitorship truly reflects the diversity of our community. Within the last year, the Nature Center has become even more accessible to Long Beach residents as LBTransit has partnered with the center by rerouting a bus line to deliver patrons directly to El Dorado Regional Park. This new bus route provides a vital link to Westside Long Beach residents and to the regional Metrorail system.
El Dorado Nature Center has a thriving volunteer program.
Even as city resources and support have continued to decline over the past several years, the Nature Center community has stepped up to take an even more active role to support educational programming and habitat restoration. A committed volunteer group led by Nature Center staff contributes 10,000+ hours of volunteer work annually -- saving shrinking local ecosystems and displaced wildlife, providing community outreach, educating the public, and maintaining park and trail conditions. Volunteer programming also reaches into the community at large and the Nature Center regularly partners with schools, scout groups, libraries, community groups, and other city departments to provide programs throughout the city, all at no cost to the public.
El Dorado Nature Center is in partnership with the community.
The Center consistently receives financial support through its Friends of El Dorado Nature Center nonprofit run by Partners of Parks. Hundreds of people each year maintain their Friends’ membership and the donations have been used to make many permanent infrastructure improvements to city property at little or no cost to the city. Projects have included upgrading museum exhibits, creating educational signage for the trail system, restoring acres of native habitat and supporting additional programming like the summer concert series enjoyed by thousands.
El Dorado Nature Center will no longer be able to offer programs that bring in revenue to the City’s general fund.
The Nature Center has already weathered multiple years of budget cuts and reduced funding levels, always struggling to deliver as much, if not more, with less and less. With these latest proposed cuts, however, staffing will be reduced to such levels that they can no longer support more than a bare bones level of programming. Potential losses include educational school tours, family night walks and campfires, preschool programming, special events, concerts, winter and spring break workshops, community outreach, and the visitor center zoo collection and art gallery. What will likely remain is a minimally trained, minimally staffed visitor center, with staff only available to sell parking passes and sell bookstore merchandise. Ironically, many of the programs likely to be lost are those that generate revenue for the city’s general fund. Any potential savings are likely to be mitigated by the subsequent loss of revenue associated with these cuts.
El Dorado Nature Center will no longer be able to provide a safe environment for patrons.
The proposed cuts will go so far as to even adversely affect the most basic of benefits: safe, passive use of the trail system by visitors. Already the facility and grounds suffer from years of deferred maintenance and cuts to both the park’s grounds and facility crews. Much of the upkeep of the building, trails and natural environs has fallen on naturalist staff. Cutting staff levels to such minimal levels will eliminate much oversight, upkeep, and safeguarding, surely resulting in costly vandalism and further deterioration of facilities. In addition, cuts to the Nature Center will be exacerbated by the potential loss of Park Ranger response and safety patrols. It is unreasonable to expect that safe conditions in a 100-acre facility can be adequately maintained for visitors under these conditions.
We are urging City staff and City Council members to critically look at the proposed budget and find other means to balance the budget. Do not jeopardize the future by short shrifting the present.