"By no means are we out of the wilderness," Governor Jerry Brown said Thursday as he unveiled his budget proposal for California's next fiscal year. But for the state's financially beleaguered park system, his blueprint may offer some needed, if temporary, relief.
Proposed is an additional $14 million to the Department of Parks and Recreation's operating budget to keep state parks running at current levels, meaning, in theory, that there will be no threat of closures. Governor Brown also proposed a one-time $40 million injection to address the backlog of overdue maintenance throughout the 280 state parks, beaches, and historic properties.
"This $40 million is really refreshing," Parks Director Major General Anthony L. Jackson told reporters in a phone press conference Thursday morning. "We have to start somewhere and this is a great start."
A start it is: the cost of the backlog hovers around $1 billion with roads, sewers, roofs, and more in need of repair.
Elizabeth Goldstein, the president of the California State Parks Foundation, applauded Governor Brown for the renewed commitment in funding the park system, especially during its 150th anniversary year, but said in a statement that there is more to be done. "[W]e hope that it is the beginning of a more stable period for state parks."
And that's what parks officials hope, too. Although $14 million was added to the operating budget, California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird described it also as a one-time increase. "It will get us through the current budget year at the same level as we look to the future for what we're going to do for parks and recreation," he said at the press conference.
After years of difficulties that have included the constant threat of park closures and an accounting scandal that led to its then-director to resign, looking to the future right now is an independent commission called Parks Forward. The group is expected to adopt a long-range plan later this year to address, among other things, the park system's financial woes.
For now, however, Governor Brown's budget proposal will be debated and likely changed before approved by the legislature.