As summer approaches, many locals fear that the state parks they rely on for inexpensive family fun might be shuttered. With the state of California facing a $24.3-billion budget deficit, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed closures at 220 state parks, including Topanga State Park and Will Rogers State Park, as a budget mending measure.
But local neighborhood groups and elected officials say the park closures would be disastrous for families who can’t afford vacations during the downturn.
According to the California State Parks Foundation, camping reservations in California for 2009 have logged 25,000 reserved nights, compared to slightly over 20,000 nights in 2008 and over 19,000 in 2007. A recent report by CSU Sacramento found that park users, on average, spent $57.63 per visit, which amounts to more than $4.2 billion in positive economic impacts.
There is some hope for state parks on the horizon in the form of proposed fees. On Monday, the state’s Budget Conference Committee voted to eliminate $70 million in general fund money for parks, but they also voted to adopt the State Parks Access Pass, a program that would amount to a $15 fee for all noncommercial California license holders. The pass and accompanying surcharge could keep parks open, but it still needs to be passed by the Legislature and approved by Schwarzenegger.
Los Angeles City Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, 11th District, called the plan to close parks a “ridiculous idea” because, he said, it would be impossible to effectively prevent entry into the state parks that surround the Pacific Palisades area. Getting rid of park rangers, he added, would only increase the state’s liability. The quality of life issue linked to park closures is also a sticking point for Rosendahl.
“These parks give people a place to relax and have fun during a terrible economic time,” Rosendahl said. “I put a call in to Julia Brownley and Fran Pavley today and hopefully they’ll get the message across in Sacramento that we need these state parks to stay open.”
When asked about the fee program, Rosendahl said he thinks it’s a viable option.
“If fees are the only way to keep parks functioning, then we have to go with fees. The thing that won’t work is closing parks,” Rosendahl said.
Dan Jacobson, Legislative Director for Environment California, a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization, estimates that every dollar invested in state parks brings back $2.35 in tourism. Jacobson is urging Californians to speak out against the closures.
“These closures would be bad for the environment and bad for the people of California,” Jacobson said. “Right now, there are a lot of families who can’t afford to take vacations, so having access to parks is crucial. We should not hold state parks hostage while we balance the budget.”
Jacobson seconded Rosendahl’s support of a fee program versus park closures.
The Pacific Palisades Community Council unanimously passed a motion at their June 11 meeting urging the Legislature and Schwarzenegger to reject the proposal to eliminate general fund funding for the state park system and the closure of 220 state parks. The motion further urges the identification of funding to enable all state parks to remain open to the public.