[Currents header

December 16, 1996

Daniel Press receives $300,000 EPA grant for open-space research

[Photo of Daniel Press] Daniel Press, an assistant professor of environmental studies, has received a grant for $304,782 from the federal Environmental Protection Agency to study the role local governments play in the preservation of open space in California.

The results of the five-year study, "Community and Conservation in California," will be particularly important as the federal and state governments abandon their roles as preservers of undeveloped land. "The federal government is spending very little money on conservation, and the state of California doesn't even have an acquisitions department for parkland anymore," says Press. "If land is going to be conserved at all, there's going to be a big role for local governments."

Historically, however, local land-preservation efforts vary widely. Some counties raise local taxes to buy land, or they create special districts that levy fees on residents to establish parks--yet others do nothing. The variation can't be explained by obvious factors, such as household income, county revenues, political affiliation, or urban density, says Press, noting that even during the height of the Depression in 1934, residents east of San Francisco voted overwhelmingly to tax themselves to establish the East Bay Regional Park District.

Press will rely heavily on interviews with planners, developers, open-space advocates, landowners, and residents to explore less tangible factors, such as how citizens feel about the place they live and what social and civic networks exist.

The five-year EPA grant guarantees that Press will be able to finish his research, which he began about 18 months ago, and it gives him the opportunity to explore an intriguing early finding: When Press charts how each county voted on the 42 statewide ballot initiatives regarding the environment that appeared between 1924 and 1994, what emerges are remarkably persistent patterns of support or rejection. It's almost like counties have distinct personalities, with some consistently approving environmental protection measures, and others consistently rejecting them.

"Some counties have taken very active roles in preserving open space, and part of what I'm doing is mapping that activity over time," says Press, who will do in-depth work in several counties as part of his research. "Ultimately, this project will tell the story of land-conservation efforts in California in the 20th century."

Press joined the UCSC faculty in 1992; he specializes in environmental policy and planning issues.

The EPA is one of the nation's largest regulatory agencies, with responsibility for several major environmental statutes, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Superfund program that cleans up abandoned hazardous-waste sites. This grant was made as part of the EPA's Early Career Research Award program, which "embodies the high priority placed by EPA on maintaining the leadership position of the United States in environmental science by producing outstanding researchers and nurturing their continued development."

--Jennifer McNulty

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