In past years, California has considered the idea of closing state parks in order to help balance the state’s perennially wobbly budget.
Now it seems our lawmakers are serious about pulling the plug on many of them.
The Department of Parks & Recreation has identified 70 parks to be shuttered, which is nearly 25 percent of the entire California state parks system.
The hit list includes many popular local and nearby parks, including:
• Bothe-Napa Valley
• Bale Grist Mill
• Sugarloaf Ridge
• Jack London
Other noteworthy parks set to close include:
• Eleven which provide coastal access
• Nine which showcase Native American history and other archeological assets
• Eight which have natural ecosystems featuring unique California redwoods
• The second largest state park in California, Henry W. Coe near Morgan Hill (80,000 acres)
Fiscally speaking, many experts believe closing these parks will actually have the exact opposite effect on the state’s finances.
California’s state parks generate an estimated $4 billion in economic activity across the state, returning more money to the state’s General Fund than they receive in General Fund support.
Park closures will undermine the earning power of state parks. In addition, more jobs will be lost, and California’s travel and tourism industry will be hit hard. Hotels, locally-owned bed and breakfast establishments, restaurants, retail shops, tour operations and many more businesses that rely on parks for visitation and economic activity will be devastated.
Even the act of instituting the closures will also add to the problem, increasing the state parks’ existing $1.2 billion deferred maintenance deficit.
Regardless, Gov. Brown is unyielding in his intention to include the park closures in his fiscal state budget.
Assuming this goes through, a bill has been proposed in the State Assembly that could provide a way for many of these parks to remain open.
Assembly Bill 42 (Huffman) would allow the state to partner with qualified non-profit organizations which could operate the parks. These non-profits could administer, maintain, restore, and improve the parks using privately-raised funds.
Under current law, the state is not permitted to allow a non-profit organization to have any control over state property.
The non-profit California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) is sponsoring the bill.
“We are not going to stand by as our state parks system is closed and dismantled,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of CSPF.
“California’s state park system belongs to the people of California and its existence is critical to the state’s environmental, economic, and civic fabric. Poor choices made now will forever change the state parks system. When state parks are closed, their natural and cultural resources may suffer such significant harm that it may be impossible to recover these gems later, either because of great cost to correct the deterioration or because the harm is irreparable.”
If passed, AB 42 will provide a tool to maintain the legacy of our state park system and keep our parks open for all Californians. If a park has enough local support, a grass-roots organization could form to take over its management.
It would be critical for such an organization to come together quickly so that it could assume maintenance responsibilities before its chosen park falls into disrepair.
The California State Assembly passed AB 42 last month by a vote of 75-1.
It is now being considered by the State Senate.
Napa County’s representative on the State Senate is Noreen Evans.
If you are concerned about the future of California’s state parks, contact Senator Evans via her website, http://sd02.senate.ca.gov/ or by calling her office at (916) 651-4002.
More information about AB 42 and the park closure list can be found at www.calparks.org/takeaction/park-closures.html
Guy Carl is a CPA and partner with BDCo Accountants and Advisors in St. Helena (www.bdcocpa.com) Contact Guy at GC.firstname.lastname@example.org