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Simitian pushes bill to keep parks open

Nearby parks in La Honda and Saratoga are on the shutdown list

With a July 1 deadline looming over a budget-cutting plan that would close some 70 of the 270 state parks, two state senators are proposing an alternative that could keep about 50 of the parks open.

A Senate budget subcommittee chaired by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, will consider a bill coauthored by Simitian and state Sen. Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, to reallocate up to $41 million to cover a $22 million shortfall in the state Parks & Recreation Department's budget for the current and next fiscal years, and provide reliable funding for several years to come.

The proposal would tap $10 million annually for five years from a clean-water revolving loan fund and from a $500 million reserve for motor vehicle license fee revenues, and up to $21 million every year in perpetuity from a fund earmarked for trail and off-highway-vehicle purposes.

State parks are in financial trouble in part because they receive about 20 percent of what they need annually for road maintenance, the senators said in a statement. Twenty of the parks also have deferred maintenance needs of $1.3 billion for water, wastewater and septic systems.

But conserving operating funds is not the answer, Simitian said in a May 8 teleconference with Evans. The proposal to close 70 parks was "fundamentally ill-conceived, penny-wise and pound-foolish, (and) irreversible," he said.

A closed park has higher risks for criminal activity, wildfire and possible lawsuits over injuries. "It's a false economy," he said.

Parks also generate important revenue for local businesses. Of the 70 parks, 20 are located in Evans' North Coast district, which includes Humboldt, Lake, Mendocino and Napa counties. Two nearby parks made the shutdown list: Portola Redwoods State Park in La Honda and Castle Rock State Park just west of Saratoga in Santa Clara County.

"The state has never closed a state park, not even in the Great Depression," Evans said. In fact, she said, during the Depression the state opened Anza Borrego Desert State Park in eastern San Diego County.

Exactly which parks would close under the Simitian plan has not been determined and is a matter for the Parks Department. Factors include historical significance, visitor count, the net savings that would result from closing a park and the level of difficulty in keeping visitors out, according to an online summary.

The number of visitors statewide has been consistent in recent years, but during hard economic times, parks are important as a low-cost way to get away and relax, Evans said.

Eighteen of the listed parks have collaborative arrangements in place with federal agencies or nonprofits that would keep them open, eight more are in negotiations for such arrangements, Evans said.

To reach the governor's desk for signature, the bill will need simple majorities in the Senate and the Assembly, Simitian said. Asked if he anticipated opposition, he said it was too early to tell but that "we've tried very hard" to design a bill that avoids political confrontations.

California is known for its parks and the idea of closing 70 of them, "I think a lot of people find incomprehensible," he said.

"We are using existing revenues in a relatively modest way to avoid the cuts," he added. "Our goal is to get past the year-to-year crisis in management of state parks. ... I am cautiously optimistic."

Comments

Posted by Another-Day-Another-Press-Conference, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 9, 2012 at 12:07 pm

> "The state has never closed a state park,
> not even in the Great Depression," Evans said.

> A closed park has higher risks for criminal activity,
> wildfire and possible lawsuits over injuries.
> "It's a false economy," he said.

So if California has never closed a park, how can any of these claims be known to be true? Notice too, the use of the term "higher risks" for criminal activity. Park employees would probably have a different story—since the level of crime has risen in the nation's parks, because of people/gangs from urban areas have moved into many of these parks in order to traffic in drugs. With no legitimate visitors in closed parks, it's difficult to understand just how much crime is going to happen—and who would be the victims of this crime—other than people illegally in the closed parks.

As to lawsuits from injuries—who were be injured in a closed park? Certainly Sen. Simitian supports arresting people trespassing on restricted state properties—included closed parks.

Raise the entrance fees so that the people using the parks pay for them, just like everything else in life.

More smoke and mirrors from Joe Simitian.


Posted by Gump, a resident of Barron Park
on May 9, 2012 at 10:03 pm

I find it very odd that Joe will come to the aid of state parks, somehow scrounging together $41M to cover operating costs, but continues to support High Speed Rail that will cost California Billions EVERY year for decades to come if approved, for a project that has been so thoroughly discredited by every outside review board.

What gives? Joe can barely scrape a few million to 'save' parks, but schemes to commit CA for BILLIONS every year for a train wreck, a fraud, a fiscal albatross this state can not afford.

This is clearly politics as usual, look at my small good deed here, while I prepare to rob the state blind over there.

It's long past time for Joe to go.


Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on May 11, 2012 at 12:13 am

The problem with higher entrance fees is that eventually the parks just become country clubs for the rich. Or maybe that's not a problem. I greatly enjoy the peaceful exclusiveness of Foothills Park, which has one of the highest fees around, viz. cost of being a Palo Alto resident. But I suspect some Palo Alto residents who don't use the park would like me to pay even more; or would like to sell off the park to developers.


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