When Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2009 proposed closing 80% of state parks as a way to help to fix the budget, it was a war call of sorts. The idea was nothing new--nor is it today--but a list of over 200 parks to close brought people together and into action. Campaigns were set into motion, news coverage and editorials drove the watercooler talk, the California State Parks Foundation's Facebook page ballooned to 44,000 fans and even the federal government expressed concerns. By the end of the drama, no parks closed, but they did suffer a reduction in services, mostly notably fewer hours--and sometimes days--open to the public.
Fast forward to January 2011, just two months after voters snubbed a ballot proposition to fund state parks via a vehicle registration fee: newly elected Governor Jerry Brown released a sobering budget for the next two fiscal years that carried the mantra, "cuts, cuts, cuts."
Like most everything, state parks were not spared. But the reality has yet to hit the public. Unlike his predecessor, Brown didn't attach a definitive number of parks to close, just a line item cut--$11 million starting next June and another $11 million a year later.
It was hard to tell what that would mean for state parks that day, but after the State of the State earlier this week Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, a major parks supporter, told a reporter that a number of state parks will be slated to close. "I'm supporting things that I didn't support in the past because we finally have a governor who is determined to get to the end," he said.
Traci Verardo-Torres of the California Parks Foundation said Brown's budget assumes a permanent cut, meaning whatever parks close could be for good. "We are contemplating the state park's first wholesale reduction in its history," she explained, noting that the system has existed for over 100 years.
No list of proposed park closures has been published yet, but at a Senate budget hearing on Thursday morning legislators requested a list by February 15th.
"We've gotten to the point now where there are no extras left over. We have tapped out the savings," said Roy Stearns, a State Parks spokesperson. "We're no longer able to run all the parks under the budget proposed for the next two years."
By summer, the proposed cuts would put the State Parks' budget around $110 million, $65 million less than four years ago.
Senator Tom Harman (R - Huntington Beach), an avid outdoorsman himself who represents several state beaches and parks, believes solutions exists through local government and private companies. "We must use every means we have to attempt to keep the parks open and fully operational," he said.
But a similar option was floated in 2009 and did not gain much traction. Instead, around 150 parks had hours and days reduced to make ends meet.