“I wish we never had to have this meeting,” State Senator Fran Pavley told the audience at the August 28 hearing “Our State Parks: Budgets and Mitigating Closures.” “But the budget is what it is and the situation is getting worse.”Pavley, who chairs the State Senate’s Natural Resources and Water committee, co-hosted the meeting with Assemblywoman Julia Brownley, who commented that she had received “more correspondence on state parks than on any other issue.”What’s at stake is the continued access to California’s 278 state parks, which cover one and a half million acres and receive 85 million visitors a year. Enjoyed by tourists and California residents alike, the state parks have 2400 permanent and 2700 seasonal employees.But, as outlined by Acting Chief Deputy Director of Parks Michael Harris, the cuts being applied to the parks’ budget for fiscal year 2009-2010 include a legislative reduction of $8 million, plus $6.2 added reduction from veto, and $1.8 million more from the elimination of the General Fund price increase. In the next two years, more than 20 per cent of the state parks’ operating budget will be cut and 100 parks will have to close.Harris did not have a list of the parks that will be closed. He said that the list is in development and will depend on such factors as attendance and cost of maintenance. Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Association, spoke of the impacts of park closures. Not only will there be a negative impact on education, recreation, and nature conservation, but lack of security will lead to increased vandalism (everything from graffiti on signage to illegal marijuana crops to trespassers and the potential for fires).Possible solutions were discussed by a panel of representatives from partnership organizations. Parks and Recreation’s Deputy Director of Park Operations Tony Perez discussed fundraising efforts, including donations from corporate sponsors. Jarrell Jackson of the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation suggested that funding would be better coming from non-profits. Carolyn Schaff, president of CALPA (California League of Park Associations, pointed out that the cost of maintenance for some park closures will be only slightly less than the cost when parks are open.In terms of corporate sponsors, Perez said that some companies such as Coca-Cola, Knudsen, REI, and Stater Brothers Markets have offered to donate, although nothing is firmed up at this point. But he was quick to note that there will be “no renaming of parks or turning over [the management]. Recognition [of donors] will be appropriate.” That means modest signage or kiosks, Harris explained, reassuring everyone that there would be no huge billboards for sponsors. Suggestions from the public included voluntary contributions to parks on state income tax forms, and volunteers from the Sierra Club providing maintenance. A rally in support of state parks will be held September 5, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Baldwin Hills Scenic Overlook, 6300 Hetzler Road, in Culver City. To support state parks virtually, go to calparks.org.
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