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Scary!

Keeping with the theme of a frightening Halloween season, several of California’s largest cities have been trying to make staffing cuts/changes which will strike a major blow to the Park Ranger profession within the state. The cities of Los Angeles, Long Beach, and Oakland have all been going after their park rangers in an attempt to “save money” and balance budgets. The solution proffered by city officials has come down to either cutting ranger staffing to debilitating level, or eliminating the ranger positions completely.

Los Angeles lead the charge, announcing in June that it planned to cut half of its 26 rangers, in addition to eliminating the Chief Ranger position. Massive waves of public support and lobbying efforts compelled the politicians to find money elsewhere. Always interesting how they forget they have money lying around to fund necessary services, until they are reminded of it under political duress. Although the City of LA decided to reinstate the positions slated for the chopping block, they did diminish the operating budget by quite a bit. Well just as the rangers were feeling safe, after that near miss, the City now went after the part-time, non-sworn, Park Patrol positions (as of the end of September). These positions consist of the dispatchers for the rangers’ public safety call/dispatch center, various equipment operators, firefighters, and other support staff, all of which help to stretch the ranger presence further, amidst already short staffing.

The City of Long Beach announced on August 1 that it had major plans for many departments in order to balance the 2008/2009 budget. Among the know-nothing cuts, were 9 of its Park Rangers out of 14. The LB Rangers are made up of 7 part-time and 7 full-time rangers. The chopping block had spaces for all 7 part-timers, 2 of the full-timers, and, of course, the elimination of two other vacant full-time positions, even as they were in the process of being filled. After much lobbying by representatives from the Park Rangers Association of California, a large group of citizens became very boisterous, and several City Council members were made aware of what rangers are, and what services they provide, etc. This resulted in the budget item being extended for an additional 30 days. Well, 30 days have come and gone, and as of now, there is still no word on the fate of the LB Rangers.

It seems Northern California isn’t immune to the idiocy that seems to have been running through SoCal in epidemic proportions. Oakland has announced its intentions to completely disband its Park Ranger unit and rely solely on regular police officers to provide ranger services. See www.savetherangers.org for more info.

The common theme in all of the cuts being entertained by the politicians is have all ranger functions backfilled by other agencies, mainly the police and fire departments. What these politicians fail to understand is that we park rangers have a highly specialized knowledge and skill base, coupled with an intimate knowledge of our parklands and facilities, as well as the people who use them. While some of our job functions may seem redundant to those performed by the police and fire departments, there are still many more functions we carry out, which those departments will be neither will nor able to perform. Not to mention the fact that for all of our law enforcement and firefighting training and certification (yes, it is all the same as the blue suits) we get paid quite a bit less (even though we provide a much broader spectrum of service). With crime on the rise, especially in an economy which will find the already struggling in far worse shape, we need more cops on the street, not hanging around parks to handle the sometimes BS issues that rangers handle (often with greater precision) frequently. With a fire season that makes past years’ seem like a camp fire, we don’t need the fire department left blind and spread thin. Rangers do it all cheaper and we do it all better when it comes to our parks.

Obviously there will be more to come on this issue. I’m amazed I have been able to condense my ranting on this. It has definitely heightened my grump factor as of late.