State parks can still be saved

Gov. Jerry Brown’s official website features a rotating display of dazzling photos featuring California’s many picturesque state parks.

Among the parks representing California’s best attributes are Garrapata State Park on the Big Sur coast and Gray Whale Cove, a beach in San Mateo County north of the Santa Cruz County line.

Only problem is these two parks and their jaw dropping scenery are two of 70 the governor wants to close as part of his budget plan.

For that matter, the website could have featured photos of sailboats off Twin Lakes State Beach, or rock climbers at Castle Rock State Park — two Santa Cruz County state parks due to be closed as part of the plan announced last week. The Santa Cruz Mission also is on the list. Nearby state parks and beaches that will be shuttered include Moss Landing and Zmudowski state beaches in North Monterey County, Portola Redwood State Park in the Skyline area and Henry Coe in Santa Clara County.

This week, Brown introduced a revised budget plan that showed the state projects an additional $6.6 billion in revenue through the end of the  2011-12 fiscal year.
Guess how much it would take to keep state parks open?

The answer is $33 million. That’s the amount the budget for parks has been cut this year and next.

To be entirely accurate, however, our state parks need far more money than that to recover from years of neglect — some estimates are as high as $1 billion in deferred maintenance.

Parks have been a budget pawn for years. In 2009, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed padlocking a third of the state’s 278 parks to help cover a deficit, but relented after a huge public outcry. Instead he reduced hours and staffing — and hiked entrance and camping fees.

Last November, a ballot measure that would have increased the vehicle license fee to raise money for parks was soundly defeated by voters — leading to the latest move to close parks.

Will the parks really close? Some Republicans have accused the governor of using parks as a negotiating chip to get the votes he needs for a tax-extension election.
And people will still visit parks, shuttered or not. Twin Lakes will still be a popular beach, but without state lifeguards and patrols. Trash collection could be another issue.

Climbers will still find a way to get into Castle Rock — and won’t have to pay fees, since rangers won’t be there to collect money.

Meanwhile, expect crime, already a problem at some understaffed parks, to increase on former parklands, along with marijuana farms and the potential for wildfires.

The problem can’t all be attributed to park-dismissive government bureaucrats. Voters time and again have approved bonds to buy additional land and put these properties on the public rolls — but the money can’t be used to hire rangers or for maintenance. The Legislature has been unwilling to pay for additional services, even as the state park system has continued to expand.

State Senate Bill 356 would allow cities and counties to take over local state parks operations — but in Santa Cruz County, with employee pension obligations choking local budgets, that’s highly unlikely.

Another proposal is to allow recreation companies to manage and maintain select parks — with the state setting standards for maintenance and quality.

Here’s another solution: since the governor announced he is increasing spending by $4.2 billion in light of the unexpected jump in revenue, Californians can let him know they want him to find a small fraction of that to keep our parks open.

The above post will be the Sentinel Editorial for Thursday, May 19, 2011

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One Response to State parks can still be saved

  1. Anonymous says:

    They’re not closing any of the parks I use, so I don’t care.

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