Crystal Ball of DBW’s Future: Hazy

State officials hint Division of Boating and Waterways will be preserved and enhanced, but industry leaders aren’t sure what’s in store.

SACRAMENTO — The marine industry is a goldmine and Sacramento’s policymakers are missing out on an opportunity to work with an economically secure sector. Such is the sentiment expressed by vocal leaders of the maritime industry, and continued oversight of recreational boating (and its sister industries) could ultimately lead to the disappearance of a vital segment of California’s economy.

Efforts have been underway to streamline organizational operations at California State Parks, causing many within the boating and maritime industry to predict the state’s Division of Boating and Waterways, or DBW, would become absorbed into the larger agency. Some in the industry believe DBW has hemorrhaged boating-savvy staff members, which could lessen the agency’s ability to fully understand the issues affecting boaters.

DBW’s status as the state’s leading agency for recreational boaters and maritime professionals had already been stripped and shrunk in the recent past. The standalone Department of Boating and Waterways was relegated to “division” status in 2013, when Gov. Jerry Brown’s reorganizational efforts removed the agency’s independence and incorporated it into State Parks.

The department, colloquially known as Cal Boating during its standalone period, was renamed as the Division of Boating and Waterways in July 2013.

Could state officials chip away at the agency again and diminish DBW into a generic cog of the larger State Parks machinery?

State Parks officials held a series of workshops at roughly this same time last year to discuss the agency’s organizational structure. At the time there were whispers and worries of DBW being phased out by state officials, effectively merging the division with State Parks.

Reorganization workshops were held across the state and reviewed possible changes to State Parks’ operation. DBW, it was believed at a time, would ultimately merge with the Off-Highway Motor Vehicle Recreation Program, which was created as its own division in 1982.

Leading staff at State Parks, however, told The Log there are no plans to do away with DBW. Exact plans have not yet been revealed, but a State Parks spokesperson said boaters would actually have an enhanced voice after the reorganization is completed.

“Recreational boaters will not lose their voice through this process. On the contrary, their voices will be enhanced,” Gloria Sandoval, a State Parks spokesperson, told The Log. “Recreational boaters make significant contributions to California’s economy. They haven’t been overlooked.”

Industry leaders remain hopeful. William Krause, a boating lobbyist who works with many yacht brokers, marina operators and other industry professionals, acknowledged State Parks’ staff has been listening to boaters and taking their input seriously.

“State Parks officials are very professional and have been very open to our input, which take as a positive sign and are confident they are considering all the potential impacts,” Krause told The Log in an email. “Is the threat real?  There is certainly a ‘threat,’ but is unclear of the likelihood of it happening. State Parks is going through a deliberative process, and we are hoping to know something soon.”

The nature of the state’s realignment would dictate how boaters are ultimately affected by any changes. Krause said the aim is to have DBW be as autonomous as possible.

“Generally speaking, we have always taken a strong position that the more autonomous the Division of Boating and Waterways, the better it can serve the boating community,” Krause said. “For 50 years, DBW has been the repository for boating expertise in California and that expertise is what makes their programs so successful.  If that expertise is lost by having it combined with other State Parks programs then programs will necessarily be less effective, and these programs serve the boaters very well.”

Some of DBW’s current functions include providing loans and grants for boating infrastructure, controlling the spread of invasive aquatic species and authorizing funding to remove hazardous abandoned vessels.

“They have many other functions, including a strong public outreach program, all of which enhance boating in this state. It is the combination of all that DBW does that makes boating in California pleasurable and attractive, the degradation of loss of anything they do will impact the boating experience, which would likely lead to fewer boaters,” Krause stated. “It is our hope that State Parks sees this value and keeps it as intact as possible.”

Krause also elaborated on the State Parks Transformation Plan in an August newsletter published by Marine Recreation Association (MRA).

“[State Parks] is engaged in this transformation process and there are rumors they want to fold some or all DBW functions into Parks,” Krause wrote in his MRA newsletter article, which also delved into the evolution of DBW from standalone department to division. “We have been in regular contact with Parks to stress how important the autonomy of DBW is to the health of boating in the State of California. However, it is still unclear what the DPR will propose in the plan.”

The full article is available at marina.org/latestnews/1708NauticalNews.html#lu.

Final plans have not yet been fleshed out and what will become of DBW still remains to be seen.

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