California Park Donors Demanding Money Back
Donors in California, angry over state mismanagement of park funds, are demanding the return of hundreds of thousands of dollars they gave to keep Northern California’s largest state park operating.
California Watch reported that the Coe Park Preservation Fund, based in Scotts Valley, donated $279,000 earlier this year to prevent the closure of rugged, 87,000-acre Henry W. Coe State Park, about 30 miles south of San Jose.
“We’re going to ask for the return of the $279,000 back to the Coe Park Preservation Fund,” said Dan McCranie, treasurer of the group’s board.
If the money is returned, the group plans to offer refunds to its donors.
The state, however, says it has no obligation to refund the money. “As it stands, there is no legal mechanism to actually return the money,” said Richard Stapler, spokesman for the state Natural Resources Agency, which oversees the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
But in an email, Stapler wrote that the agency does not rule out the possibility of a compromise. “We are very eager to speak with the Coe folks,” he said.
On Sept. 25, Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 1478, which prohibits the parks department from closing or proposing the closure of any park from now until July 2014.
Last year, the parks department announced plans to close Henry W. Coe State Park, along with 69 other parks, after the state cut the department’s budget by $22 million. Nonprofit groups, municipalities and county governments around the state responded by coming up with millions of dollars to keep many of those threatened parks open, at least temporarily.
Yet, the department was actually sitting on a hidden surplus of almost $54 million. About $20 million was in the state Parks and Recreation Fund, which comes mainly from fees paid by park goers. Another $34 million was found in a fund for off-road vehicles and can only be spent on parks that allow them. The Sacramento Bee reported on the funds in July, and three of the department’s top officials resigned or were fired.