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CleanFlame Donates $300K to California Parks

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

California State Parks announced Wednesday (June 1) a new partnership with national firelog company CleanFlame, in order to support and promote the state’s 278 parks and campgrounds.

CleanFlame joins the parks’ “Proud Partner” program with a commitment to donate $300,000 of the proceeds from sales of its new Campfire Log during the next three years to help keep California’s state parks open and accessible to the public, according to a news release.

The company’s “S’more Fun in the Forest” campaign launched in May to call attention to this opportunity for consumers to help support critical infrastructure and maintenance projects needed throughout the State Park system.

“We are pleased to partner with CleanFlame to generate revenue for our parks through the sale of their new campfire log. They are a California-based company whose environmentally friendly products will add to the outdoor recreation experience and enjoyment at our 15,000 campsites,” said Brent Reed, deputy director of partnerships and consumer strategies.

“CleanFlame is proud to support California’s majestic state parks and campgrounds during these budget-challenged times,” said Kory Hamman, CEO of CleanFlame. “The new Campfire Log by CleanFlame represents a new era in responsible camping safety and convenience. Unlike other artificial firelog brands, our Campfire Logs are clean enough to cook over, toxin free, safer for our families and better for our environment. And with a portion of proceeds from the sale of each log going to support our state campgrounds, we hope to keep the adventure of camping alive for generations to come.”

Campfire Log by CleanFlame and Rapid Fire Firestarters are available at California state parks, Safeway stores, Vons, Dominick’s, Randall’s Food Marts, Tom Thumbs, Pavillions, Raleys, Savemart and many other retail locations nationwide. Visit http://www.cleanflame.com for a store locator.

About the Proud Partnership Program: California State Parks instituted the Proud Partnership Program, with assistance from the California State Parks Foundation, to help enhance and promote the state parks to the public. Financial support and resources from “Proud Partners,” such as CleanFlame, help fund visitor enhancement projects and promote California state parks programs. For more information about the Proud Partner Program, visit http://www.parks.ca.gov.

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California Urging Non-Profits to Run Parks

May 20, 2011 by · 1 Comment 

With budget cuts threatening to force the shutdown of 70 California state parks, the state Assembly on Thursday (May 19) unanimously approved legislation making it easier for nonprofit groups to take over operations at some parks.

According to an Associated Press report, the bill, AB42, passed 67-0 Thursday with little discussion and was sent to the Senate.

The author, Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael, said the measure might not be a complete solution to keeping parks open, but it could help. “This is not a silver bullet,” he said.

Huffman, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, has previously said the planned closings would be “devastating for park visitors throughout the state.”

State parks officials last week announced that $33 million in budget cuts passed by the Legislature in March would force the state to close 70 of California’s 278 parks, beaches and historic areas around the state as of July 2012. They said they would seek partnerships with local governments and nonprofits to keep some open, but they noted that the process to partner with a nonprofit to operate a park was complicated and in the past has required special legislation.

Without operating agreements, the state plans to close park sites across the state, from Pacific Coast beaches and redwood groves to Gold Rush-era mining sites in the Sierra Nevada and mansions in Sacramento.

Officials noted that the $99 million budget from the state’s general fund for parks in 2012-2013 is 40% less than the agency received in 2007-2008, and that about 500 of the 2,300 authorized parks jobs are vacant. About 200 more workers would be affected by the planned closings, but some could be transferred to vacant positions.

While the bill still must clear the Senate, the California State Parks Foundation is hopeful that it offers another avenue to keep parks open, said president Elizabeth Goldstein. The group is a sponsor of Huffman’s bill.

Operating agreements with nonprofits “would be an important short-term step to protect these parks,” she said.

“We’ve been hearing from organizations that are very interested” in partnerships with the state to run various parks, Goldstein said, and the foundation itself also will look at whether it makes sense to pursue an agreement with the state.

California State Parks director Ruth Coleman said last week that the state was eager to explore ways to preserve the parks slated for closure, but there would be a learning curve.

Several other bills that would encourage partnerships to operate state parks are pending in legislative committees or on the Assembly floor.

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California Announces Plan to Close 70 Parks

May 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

California state parks officials recently announced the closure of 70 parks because of the state budget deficit, according to a report in the Sacramento Bee.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget plan proposed reducing the state parks budget by $22 million. The Legislature in March approved $11 million in cuts to state parks and $10 million in cuts to off highway vehicle parks in the next fiscal year, with $22 million in cuts to state parks in future years.

The California State Parks System was directed to identify which parks would close based on attendance rates and historical significance. The department operates more than 270 state park units covering more than 1.4 million acres.

“We regret closing any park,” Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, said in a statement. “But with the proposed budget reductions over the next two years, we can no longer afford to operate all parks within the system.”

The department at first said service reductions will begin over the summer and closures will begin in September, but later announced that the parks will not be fully closed until July 1, 2012. The cuts have not yet been signed by Brown, so a final list could grow or shrink based on the actions the Legislature takes to close the budget deficit.

Parks officials said they tried to protect the most significant cultural and natural resources, while maintaining the parks that provided the most public access and state revenue. In addition, the department intends to seek partnership agreements with local governments and non-profits in attempt to keep some of the parks open. They said 92% of total park attendance will be retained and 94% of existing revenues even with the closures.

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RVers Avoid Costly Public RV Campgrounds

February 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Most RVers are unwilling to pay high fees for primitive campsites at public campgrounds, according to more than 2,800 RVers who responded to a survey in last weekend’s RVtravel.com newsletter.

According to the RV News Service, the survey was prompted by RVtravel.com Editor Chuck Woodbury’s recent experience of coming upon two California state parks where the fee for primitive campsites — those with no utility hookups — were $35 a night. “My reaction was that it was too much,” he wrote. “The park system, of course, is trying to raise more money to keep its parks open. But I wonder if they have priced themselves out of the market.”

More than 95% of the recreational vehicle enthusiasts who responded to the survey said they would never pay — or probably never pay — that much to stay in a public campground. “Look at it from this perspective — $35 per night equals $1,050 per month,” one reader commented. “Would you pay that to rent a house with no walls, no water, no electricity, no toilets?”

Another reader commented, “It would make more sense to have a full campground at a lesser fee than a mostly empty one at the higher rates, and this goes not only for California but all states.”

“It’s a real shame that the going rate to camp in a public campground these days is often what you’d pay for a room in an economy motel,” said Woodbury. “There are a lot of people out there, individuals and families, where camping is becoming financially out of reach. I think the big losers are the children, who miss out on the opportunity to be with their families in the outdoors.”

Woodbury said he does not know the solution to the problem of escalating camping fees. “I just know that there comes a point where you charge too much, and in that case you end up with less.”

The real-time results of the survey are available at http://rvtravel.com/rvtravel/results.aspx.

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California Voters Reject Parks Salvation Plan

November 3, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

California voters on Tuesday (Nov. 2) overwhelmingly rejected a measure to pay for California’s chronically underfunded state park system by instituting an $18 vehicle license fee, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Proposition 21 would have raised $500 million a year to pay for operating, maintaining and repairing the state’s 278 parks. In exchange, California motorists would have gotten free admission to their favorite state-owned scenic wonders, historic monuments and beaches.

Everyone agrees the state park system, which supporters call the jewel of California, needs gussying up, but the question before voters was whether California motorists should pay the price.

The $18 would have been tacked on to the fee motorists pay to register their vehicles.

But most people didn’t like the idea of removing park funding from the state’s general fund or sloughing the cost off on voters. Critics said the initiative amounted to ballot-box budgeting – a practice that has been blamed for exacerbating the state’s fiscal woes.

The most vocal opponents were anti-tax crusaders who characterized Prop. 21 as a cynical ploy by Sacramento politicians to implement a car tax and enable wasteful government spending.

California has more state parks than any other state. They cover 1.4 million acres, including 280 miles of coastline and 625 miles of lake and riverfront. About 70 million people visit the state parks annually. That compares with about 16 million who visit Disneyland each year.

But there hasn’t been enough money available in the state’s general fund to provide many of the park services that visitors often expect, such as maintained trails, working bathrooms and rangers. Huge budget deficits over the past two years forced partial closures in 60 parks and deep service reductions in 90 others, including Angel Island, Mount Diablo and China Camp state parks.

Of the 278 parks in the state, 150 have been affected in one way or another by budget cuts, including reductions in the number of lifeguards and janitors. Restrooms, campgrounds, picnic areas, parking lots and beaches have been closed.

That’s on top of the $1.3 billion in maintenance projects that were already backlogged before the state budget crisis, park officials said.

The California State Parks Foundation led a coalition of environmental and conservation groups that gathered 760,000 signatures to put Prop. 21 on the ballot. The initiative would have added the cost of a single professional car wash onto the vehicle license fee for motorcycles, cars and recreational vehicles, but not larger commercial vehicles, mobile homes or permanent trailers. In exchange, those vehicles would have gotten free admission to all state parks.

Out-of-state vehicles would still have paid entrance fees, which are as much as $125 for an annual pass or between $10 and $15 a day at most parks.

Eighty-five percent of the money would have been spent on parks. The remaining 15% was going to be used by the state for land management, to operate marine reserves, and to support wildlife conservancies. An annual audit would have been conducted by a citizens’ oversight committee that would release the results to the public.

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RV Rental Firm Ensnarled in State Oversight

July 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Summer isn’t proving too sunny for Lompoc, Calif., business owner Brad Pellegrin, whose trailer rental company, Earl’s RV, will lose more than $50,000 this season because it’s no longer allowed to deliver camping equipment to state parks in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Independent reported.

It’s been a full year since Pellegrin — who started working for his father, the Earl of the company name, at age 15 and took it over in 2006 — found out that California State Parks had given an exclusive regional contract for RV delivery to a new outfit called Vacation Trailers 2 U, but it hasn’t gotten any easier to stomach.

“It’s a really unfair situation, a really messed up deal,” said Pellegrin, who said the move occurred “without any forewarning” and with no option for Earl’s RV to offer the services instead, despite having done so for 23 years at Carpinteria, Refugio, El Capitán and Gaviota state beaches.

“I asked why, and the only answer was, ‘We didn’t know you existed,’” explained Pellegrin. He doesn’t believe the response, pointing to his 15 years of advertising the service in the campgrounds’ main magazine and noting that he knew most of the camp managers by name due to delivering so much. “What really frustrates me is the state’s lack of a reasonable answer,” said Pellegrin. “To allow us to slip through the crack for 23 years? It just seems a little far-fetched. I can’t imagine anyone being allowed to break the law for 23 years.”

But Richard Rozelle — who took over in May 2008 as director of the State Parks’ Channel Coast District, which extends from Ventura County up to Point Sal near Santa Maria — maintains that Earl’s RV was indeed news to him, even if some of his on-the-ground employees were familiar with the service.

“While we do our best to educate employees about the rules and policies, they’re not always cognizant of everything that goes into running the state parks,” said Rozelle of these often seasonal staffers, who were first to mention Earl’s RV when the new contract was announced last summer. “When we started finding out about it, we asked them why they hadn’t come and asked for permission,” he said, noting that Pellegrin’s ignorance of the situation is not an excuse for breaking the law. “They’ve been operating illegally in the state parks for over 20 years.”

So when Rozelle was approached by the owner of Vacation Trailers 2 U (VT2U) nearly two years ago, he thought it was a great idea — given the rise of “glamping,” or luxury camping — and a green one, especially since so many people buy RVs but then only use them once a year. But most importantly, said Rozelle, “It provided an opportunity to generate revenue at a time when state parks are cash poor.”

Specifically, VT2U pays 10% of its first $300,000 in gross revenues to California State Parks, and then 12% when the revenues top $300,000; there is also a $6,000 minimum payment in case of a slow year.

Since it’s officially a new venture for the region, state law allows Rozelle to enter into a two-year agreement with any vendor — rather than host the typical bidding process for government contracts — to determine whether it’s a viable long-term opportunity. “It’s turning out to be,” said Rozelle, who was not obligated to contact other vendors but said that he would have done so if he’d “known there was interest.” The contract expires next May, and will then be put out to bid for all interested companies.

Perhaps the only one angrier than Pellegrin over the current uproar is Jason Kimbrell, the owner of the official concessionaire Vacation Trailers 2 U. “I’m pretty disgusted with it,” said Kimbrell of what he calls a “big misinformation campaign” about his business and a case of “sour grapes syndrome” on Pellegrin’s part. “We’ve done everything by the book and exactly how we were supposed to do it,” explained Kimbrell, who said that the “lengthy” approval process required loads of paperwork, multiple meetings, upgrading trailers, acquiring appropriate insurance, and waiting nine months for a decision.

Like Rozelle, Kimbrell — a San Diego native who fell in love with Santa Barbara while a UCSB student years ago — “had no idea that Earl’s RV company existed” when he approached California State Parks with his proposal. He soon learned about Earl’s RV and a number of other businesses “flying below the radar screen,” including a number of folks who seemed to be subsidizing their RV ownership with occasional weekend rentals. When he heard about Pellegrin’s complaints, Kimbrell said he went to Lompoc to “extend the olive branch” and allowed Earl’s RV to fulfill the rentals that had already been commissioned through last summer. In return, Kimbrell said he got a handshake and a promise to not violate his agreement.

But then, a few weeks ago, Kimbrell’s employee noticed a number of trailers from Earl’s RVs at Refugio State Beach. “We weren’t going to make a big ruckus about them — State Parks has other things to manage,” said Kimbrell of both Earl’s RV and other nonregulated rentals. “But this was so blatant that I called them up.”

Meanwhile, his employee took flyers down to the apparently illicit camp visitors to advertise the now-official concessionaire. That move, according to Kimbrell, led to a verbal assault on his employee by those loyal Earl’s RV renters.

But according to Marell Brooks, a county planning commissioner and annual Earl’s RV customer for 20-plus years who was on the scene that day, they were the ones who felt “really uncomfortable” because the VT2U employee was “hassling everybody.” Said Brooks, “Rather than a nice enjoyable stay, that first day we were all being accused of doing something illegal.”

The incident became a nonissue when a Vandenberg firefighter disappeared nearby while kayaking that same day, so maybe that’s why Pellegrin fessed up to the act weeks later without being prompted, explaining, “We’ve bent the rules a couple times.”

Rozelle didn’t view it as lightly, explaining that he’s been “investigating a recent incident” in which Earl’s RV may have brought trailers into a park. “We’ve been reasonable in seeking compliance,” said Rozelle. “We may turn this over to the district attorney if we find this is an ongoing activity.”

Of all the charges being thrown on the wall, the one that’s stickiest is the price discrepancy between the high-end trailers offered by VT2U and the wider range of options rented by Earl’s RV, particularly the popup tent trailers that go for a fraction of the price of an RV.

“We don’t want those big RVs — we just want a tent trailer,” said Brooks. “By doing this, the state is telling local people, ‘Sorry, you have to spend $200 a night if you want to rent a camper.” Even Kimbrell — who stills refers customers to Earl’s RV but complains that Pellegrin lies about the existence of VT2U and tells customers that no company is allowed to rent in the state parks — sees the rationale in this argument. He agreed to let Earl’s RV deliver those trailers over the course of his contract, but said that California State Parks didn’t want to “reward bad behavior” by granting any such concessions.

Rozelle has also taken note of the valid complaint. “When I go out to bid, we’re going to be looking at providing a range of camping experiences,” he said. “The pop-up trailer could be part of that.”

That request for proposals will be hashed out this fall and put out for bid sometime before the VT2U contract ends in May. The State Parks review panel can certainly expect both Kimbrell and Pellegrin to be at the table next year. Said Kimbrell, “I’ve got a $650,000 bet on this business.” Said Pellegrin, “I do intend on putting my name on the list. I am very much interested. I want it back.”

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Paper Supports Tax to Rescue California State Parks

November 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Editor’s Note: The following editorial appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

One of the more contentious issues of this year’s tortuous budget deliberations was Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s threat to close state parks to help bridge a budget gap of more than $20 billion. Many Californians who objected to the closures assumed their voices were heard – and the story had a happy ending – when a budget deal was reached and the governor announced that all 278 state parks could remain open.

But Californians who have since tried to visit their favorite park might quarrel with the definition of open when they suddenly see a “closed” sign on weekends or can no longer use certain campgrounds, parking lots, restrooms, picnic grounds or other facilities.

Even though no park has been officially shuttered, the system has taken a severe hit from the $14.2 million cut in the current fiscal year. The effects will be even more severe in fiscal 2010-11, when another $22.2 million will be slashed from the parks budget.

Democratic legislators had come up with a sensible plan to buffer the parks from an annual budget peril that intensifies when multibillion dollar deficits are threatening education and core social services. They proposed a $15 per-vehicle registration surcharge, with the revenue dedicated to preserving the parks system. In return, visitors entering the parks with California license plates on their vehicles would not have to pay the daily use charge, which ranges from $10 to $15.

Unfortunately, that vehicle-license plan was shot down by Republicans who opposed any new taxes to balance the budget.

The idea is coming back in the form of an initiative promoted by a coalition of parks supporters. Those groups have begun circulating petitions for a November 2010 ballot measure that would establish an $18 annual vehicle license fee and create the California State Parks and Wildlife Conservation Trust Fund. The fee would apply to cars, light trucks, motorcycles and recreational vehicles. Larger commercial vehicles and mobile homes would be exempt.

The fee would generate about $500 million a year, with 85% dedicated to state parks and 15% to other wildlife and ocean-protection agencies.

Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, said the governor’s threat to closed parks showed “the fragility” of the system in lean times. The foundation’s list of Facebook friends went from 500 to 50,000. “We were stunned by the level of support this issue engendered,” Goldstein said.

While we like the concept of a vehicle fee to sustain the parks, we would prefer that such taxing and budgeting decisions be made in the California Legislature. One of the reasons this state confronts such gridlock and dysfunction is the long string of voter-approved initiatives on spending and taxes that limit the Legislature’s prerogatives. A mandate that is locked-in by a voter initiative cannot be altered or lifted – regardless of how it is working or economic circumstances – without another statewide vote.

Schwarzenegger and legislators should take note of the outpouring of public concern that gave rise to this initiative. They should resurrect the proposal for a vehicle fee or come up with another creative proposal to provide a reliable source of funding for the parks.

Californians revere their state parks, which not only provide an affordable source of recreation, but preserve our history and natural treasures. The initiative drive has laid down a challenge to Sacramento: Protect the parks, or the voters may do it themselves.

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California Ends Reservations for Most State Parks

October 21, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

RVers who want to camp in one of California’s state parks may have reservations about the whole matter when they hear the latest: The Golden State parks are staying open despite the budget crisis, but campground reservations have been eliminated in all but 23 of more than 200 of the state’s parks, according to rvnewsservice.com.

Says a notice on the official state park service website, “We will resume camping reservations after we have determined how best to operate within [our] $14 million cut.” This doesn’t mean that camping is out of the question, but it does mean that the lion’s share of California campsites will be on a first-come, first-served basis until officials figure out how to deal with the dollar cuts.

All this on the heels of news that the recession has done nothing to curb Americans’ appetite for camping.

Quite the contrary. Many private RV parks and public camping agencies report a huge increase in use over this last summer. Plenty of RVers have found to their chagrin that traveling without reservations can lead to long nights spent on parking lots when finding “full” signs on campgrounds.

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All California State Parks to Remain Open, Sort Of

September 28, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger

Under fire from park supporters and the state’s own attorneys, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that he has found a way to cut millions of dollars out of the California State Parks budget without completely closing any parks.

The plan, which some are criticizing as little more than a shell game, slashes $14.2 million from the park budget this year by closing some campgrounds and facilities on weekdays, eliminating unfilled seasonal and administrative positions and cutting back on maintenance and things like bathroom cleaning, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

The idea is to allow all 279 state parks to remain open this fiscal year. More options would be explored Jan. 10 when legislators consider next year’s budget, according to a statement the governor released Friday (Sept. 25).

“Working closely with my departments of finance and parks and recreation, we have successfully found a way to avoid closing parks this year,” the statement read. “This is fantastic news for all Californians.”

But several officials familiar with the park budget negotiations said the plan may not be all that the governor’s spin machine has promised. The plan does not restore any money taken out of the park budget, the critics said, meaning that even if the gates remain open there will not be enough personnel or resources to run the parks.

“I’m hugely skeptical that you can have the kind of savings that the governor is proposing without having park closures either explicitly or functionally,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who is chairman of the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee. “I’m concerned that the administration may be trying to have it both ways. He’s functionally closing parks but trying not to face the heat of closing parks.”

The budget cuts were part of a deal Schwarzenegger signed in July to erase a $24 billion budget gap. In addition to the $14.2 million in cuts to parks this fiscal year, the deal also chopped $22.2 million out of the 2010-11 parks budget. The governor said Friday that he hopes to find more money for the parks next year.

Park officials had said the 20% cut would require them to close 100 state parks, including some of the state’s most popular wildland areas. The list of which parks would be closed was never released.

The plan came under fire from legislators, environmental organizations, park supporters and residents of communities where businesses rely on park visitors to spend money.

The state’s own lawyers cautioned park officials that the closures would potentially leave them liable for voided concessionaire contracts and for injuries or fires in unattended state parks.

The governor’s new parks plan is to save $12.1 million this year by eliminating all major equipment purchases, including vehicle replacements, and a further $2.1 million by cutting seasonal and operations staffing and opening some parks only on weekends and holidays. He did not say which parks would be affected.

Although all the parks would remain open at least part time, selected campgrounds and facilities would be closed, and visitor services provided by rangers, custodians and maintenance workers would be drastically reduced, according to the plan.

Parks spokesman Roy Stearns said the staffing cuts can be accomplished by eliminating vacant positions.

“There are going to be reductions in service, but the bottom line is all those parks will stay open at the busy times when people are using them,” Stearns said. “Next year is a new ballgame, but the administration said it will help us find solutions.”

Elizabeth Goldstein, executive director of the California State Parks Foundation, said everything the governor is proposing had previously been discussed.

“The governor finally realized that the political and economic consequences of closing parks are enormous and he is now trying to heal a self-inflicted wound,” Goldstein said. “The public is going to need to understand in the coming weeks what the level of service reductions are going to be. The implications of this are at the moment unclear.”

The proposal to close the parks was quickly becoming a Gordian knot around the necks of the governor and park officials. Besides the legal ramifications, federal grant money was at stake. The National Park Service could have seized land in as many as six parks, including Angel Island, that were once owned by the federal government.

Additionally, nobody seemed to know exactly how they were going to keep the public — let alone marijuana growers and other criminals — out of the forests, woodlands, wetlands and beaches. Park officials even floated the idea of establishing neighborhood watch-style groups to prevent illegal activity.

The budget cuts are clearly going to be difficult whether or not the parks stay open. California’s state parks, which cover 1.5 million acres, have already absorbed years of cost cutting and staff reductions and had $1.2 billion in deferred maintenance on the books even before the latest crisis.

Dan Jacobson, legislative director of the nonprofit group Environment California, said he is thrilled the parks will stay open even though the battle is far from over.

“What this whole debacle points out is that we need to find a stable funding system for our parks,” he said. “The onus is going to have to be on the state Legislature in 2010 to pass permanent protection for our state parks.”

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100 California State Park Closures to be Known Soon

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

It is expected that a list of about 100 California state parks that may be closing will be known to park districts across the state sometime shortly after Labor Day.

“By Labor Day we should have a list of which parks will be closing,” Shannon Gillespie of the Mendocino District Office near the town of Mendocino said Tuesday (Aug. 25), according to the Ukiah Daily Journal.

Roy Stearns, a spokesman for California State Parks, said an awaited list of closures will be known sometime after Labor Day.

“It is not ready yet,” Stearns said. He said 100 is an estimated figure for closures at this time.

Stearns said that consideration for closure is not regional or based on value. “It is a business decision,” Stearns said, adding that officials look wherever a park closure can have a savings to help close the budget gap.

Cuts to state parks this year total $14.2 million or 10% of the general fund. In 2010, state parks expect to lose $8 million with an estimated additional $5 million loss from park closures.

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Schwarzenegger Proposes to Close 220 State Parks

May 29, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget cuts could mean the closing of up to 220 state parks, among them the home of the world’s tallest tree and other attractions that draw millions of visitors, according to the Associated Press.

Schwarzenegger this week recommended eliminating $70 million in parks spending through June 30, 2010. An additional $143.4 million would be saved in the following fiscal year by keeping the parks closed.

“This is a worst-case scenario,” said Roy Sterns, a spokesman at the state parks department. “If we can do less than this, we will try. But under the present proposal, this is it.”

Among the parks that could be closed, the parks department said Thursday (May 28), are Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay, Will Rogers’ Southern California ranch and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which boasts the world’s tallest tree, a giant that tops 370 feet. Even the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento is on the list.

The Legislature last year rejected the governor’s proposal to close 48 state parks. But lawmakers said that with California’s budget deficit now at $24.3 billion, the situation is so dire that it is likely some parks will close.

“Things that were previously dead on arrival are a lot more viable in a crisis like this,” said Democrat Jared Huffman, chairman of the Assembly’s parks and wildlife committee. “I think some cuts are coming to the parks, and they’ll be cuts I won’t like and the public won’t like.”

The state parks department said a $70 million cut would leave it with enough money to run just 59 of California’s 279 state parks.

The state’s famed park system attracts nearly 80 million visitors a year. William Randolph Hearst’s Castle on the Central Coast and a dozen other so-called moneymakers would remain open, as would many Southern California beaches that attract millions of visitors year round.But others that could close include: Fort Ross State Historic Park, the southernmost Russian settlement in North America; Bodie State Historic Park, one of the best-preserved Old West ghost towns; and Big Basin Redwoods, the oldest state park.

The proposal has angered conservationists and some Democrats in the Legislature, who say California’s parks are treasured spots that help the state and local economy.

“State parks draw tourism to California,” State Parks Foundation president Elizabeth Goldstein said. “This proposal makes the budget situation worse.”The foundation estimates the state gets a $2.35 return for every dollar it spends on parks.

California spends roughly $400 million a year running 279 state parks and beaches, with roughly a third of the money coming from the state general fund. The rest comes from user fees, which account for slightly more than a quarter of the revenue; bond funds; gasoline taxes; federal money; and other sources.

Assembly Minority Leader Mike Villines said the state cannot afford to subsidize state parks when lawmakers are being asked to make severe cuts in even more vital areas.

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