Parks and Wreck
California will close state parks to save $11 million.
Thursday, February 10, 2011
State parks will close, says Resources Agency Secretary John Laird, as part of a painful process to fill California’s $25 billion budget gap. This may include any number of Monterey County’s 17 state parks and beaches.
Laird won’t say which parks or how many are on the chopping block. State officials are currently considering all properties run by state parks – including parks, beaches, recreational areas and nature reserves – for potential closure or reduced operations. The goal, Laird says, is an $11 million cost savings a year for two years.
“We’ll roll out a list sometime in the next two weeks,” Laird says, adding that the process for selecting which parks to shutter will consider “a number of factors, such as park usage, cost to close, the revenue the park brings in. There’s a whole criteria for trying to come up with a list among the 278 parks. It’s hard to spread the pain equally geographically.”
Laird has long been a vocal advocate for California’s state parks. In 2008, while serving in the Assembly, Laird proposed a plan to save the chronically underfunded state parks by adding a surcharge on the vehicle license fee. It was an alternative to then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s budget proposal to close 48 state parks, including Fort Ord Dunes State Park and Limekiln State Park. In 2009, Schwarzenegger proposed closing parks – 220 this time, to save $70 million and without naming specific parks – as a cost-saving scheme.
Laird’s park funding proposal ultimately failed in the legislature – Schwarzenegger killed it with a veto threat – as did Schwarzenegger’s proposals in 2008 and 2009 to close parks. Laird’s idea was, however, reincarnated on the November 2010 ballot. But voters turned down Prop. 21, which would have kept state parks open and adequately funded.
After fighting to save parks as a lawmaker, preparing to sign off on closures puts Laird in a painful position. “I’d rather be sitting in a dental chair being drilled on with no Novocain,” he says, adding that California must fix its monetary woes.
“I’m supporting things that I did not support when I was budget chair with budget reductions because for the first time in 10 years, we have a governor who has proposed to get to the end of this broken budget,” Laird says. “Gov. Jerry Brown is determined to take the steps to upright the budget in one year, and that means making some very difficult decisions.”