SAN FRANCISCO--A crisis has hit California’s great outdoors. Seventy of our 279 California state parks are set to close on July 1, 2012, because of budget cuts.
This means that 70 iconic places will no longer be available to the public, such as the breathtaking coastlines of Garrapata or Morro Strand; historic landmarks, like Jack London and Petaluma Adobe; or the recreational locations, such as Annadel or China Camp.
These closures are a direct result of Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed $22 million permanent general fund cut to the California Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR). But this $22 million is really just the final straw. DPR’s budget has suffered ongoing cuts for well over a decade.
These are tough times for state parks. The implications of these budget cuts hurt local communities across the state. Closing state parks is bad for local businesses, bad for tourism, bad for jobs, bad for health and wellbeing, and bad for California.
70 Million Visitors Spend $6 Billion a Year
Almost 70 million people visit the state’s parks annually, and they generate an annual economic benefit of more than $6 billion statewide. With all this at stake, a budget cut that gives the state a mere fraction of a percent in savings is not worth it.
Many Californians seem to understand this. For several months now, the parks community has been stepping up in significant ways to help parks slated for closure.
Three kinds of partnerships are taking shape. First, government agencies are providing assistance to help keep parks open.
Second, many state-parks organizations and associations are fundraising to keep their particular parks open.
Finally, some nonprofit organizations are evaluating their ability to manage parks directly. They can do so under the new operating authority that DPR received from the passage of Assembly Bill 42 in January.
The bill authorizes DPR to enter into operating agreements with qualified nonprofits to provide visitor services in state parks, facilitate public access to park resources, improve park facilities, and provide interpretive and educational services.
To date, approximately 13 parks on the closure list have found stopgap measures to stay open through one of the above partnerships, and many more are in the works. Even though these partnerships are commendable, they are, unfortunately, temporary solutions. That is, they won’t restore the needed funding from the state government.
Two key pieces of legislation are moving through the legislature in Sacramento that could help state parks. Assembly Bill 1589, introduced by Jared Huffman, D-Marin, is an omnibus bill for state parks funding and sustainability.
Senate Bill 580 by Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis, is a parks-protection bill requiring that state park lands not be used for non-park purposes unless replacement lands of equivalent value are provided. Both of these bills would be a big step in the right direction for state parks.
In order to prevent these closures and protect our state parks, citizens must intervene and tell Gov. Brown they are opposed to these cuts and the closures.
Those who wish to express their support for the parks can send a message to their legislators through the California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) website, www.calparks.org. Additionally, it is crucial for everyone to help spread the word, particularly through social media (#defendwhatsyours).
The cuts may well go deeper. Not only have Brown’s budget cuts led to the closure of 70 parks, but all seasonal lifeguards on state beaches and 20 percent of park rangers will be laid off if his revenue package does not pass in November.
Visit CSPF’s Defend What’s Yours page at www.calparks.org/defend and learn more about how you can become a defender, sign our pledge, contact your legislators, volunteer and more.
Elizabeth Goldstein is president of the California State Parks Foundation