August 14, 2022 Breaking News, Latest News, and Videos

How Safe Are State Parks?

By Thomas D. Elias

From Anderson Marsh State Historic Park in Lake County and Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area on the Sacramento River in Tehama County. From the vast Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County to Point Lobos State Reserve in Monterey County and Point Mugu State Park in Ventura County.

View California’s far-flung 280-unit State Park system either alphabetically or geographically, and you see a resource unparalleled in any other state and hard to match in any nation around the world. There are dune buggy tracks in the deserts and pristine redwood groves near the North Coast. Historic resources from the oldest active Chinese temple in the West to the Pio Pico House in downtown Los Angeles.

What they have in common is a commitment for preservation by the state and a responsibility for the safety of the more than 60 million persons who use them yearly.

Even before the late June shooting death of a father of two from Irvine while fast asleep in a campground at Malibu Creek State Park near Calabasas, there was reason to question the safety and upkeep of the State Park system.

A reader from Davis wrote this column just after that unsolved murder complaining of “the terror tales about broken bathrooms, broken picnic tables, impassable trails due to fallen trees,” but griped most harshly about “the total lack of security due to the paucity of rangers, particularly overnight.”

It turns out the reader was absolutely correct. For this year, the Parks Department reports, it has 484 peace officer rangers on duty. That’s 72 fewer than in 2012. It’s an average of less than two rangers per park unit, charged with protecting the parks and their visitors 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That’s almost an impossible task.

Months before the murder at Malibu Creek, the rangers’ organization, the Resource Protection Peace Officers Assn., complained online about not having enough people to contend with stabbings, domestic violence, jogger assaults, the occasional high speed chase and, rarely, shootings.

Stopping short of actually admitting it has a safety problem, the Parks Department now says a budget increase it just received will allow expansion of its force to more than 600 peace officer rangers by the end of the fiscal year next summer.

Reported Gloria Sandoval, the department’s deputy director for communications, “California State Parks is actively taking steps to fill 88 vacant peace officer positions,” pointing to a recruiting campaign launched in April aiming to hire those 88 and another 54 authorized in the new budget. “That would be 626 peace officer positions authorized and expected to be filled by the end of the current budget year.”

This would still be less than three rangers per park unit. When some parks expand to populations of 8,000 or more on holiday weekends, the parks can’t provide anything like comprehensive patrols and protection.

But that’s probably inevitable for this stepchild of a state agency, one with enormous responsibilities but very few funds to carry them out. That status is one reason the department depends heavily on volunteer campground hosts in full-fledged state parks and volunteer park hosts in many other locations.

Says the Parks Department website, “Volunteer host positions are available in over 100 parks. Host duties vary according to each park but generally include providing visitor information, staffing visitor centers and museums, maintenance projects and general housekeeping. Most hosts work approximately 20 hours a week and, in exchange for those services, the hosts are provided with a campsite during their stay.”

That’s a lot of benefits to the state and its park users for no money at all.

The volunteers are not equipped to maintain park facilities from picnic tables to restrooms. So as budgets shrank during the recession and afterward, some parks became decrepit, almost derelict. Not the best way to present California to its millions of visitors.

The Parks Department insists it has now begun fighting its way back, with a budget almost $200 million higher than six years ago at recession’s end. That and the increased user fees called for in the same budget should see fresh paint and smoother plumbing in many places.

But the number of peace officer rangers remains woefully adequate, even if all open positions are filled this year.

Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It,” is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net

in Opinion
Related Posts

Column: Time to Crack Down on Vacant Homes’ Owners

August 12, 2022

August 12, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist ​​There is no doubt California has a housing shortage. That’s fact even in the wake of...

OpED: Santa Monica Police Officers Association on Downtown Presence

August 12, 2022

August 12, 2022

By The Santa Monica Police Officers Association Recently, there has been increased public dialogue around the topic of crime and...

Review: A Santa Monica Restaurant’s New Happy Hour is Top-Notch

August 10, 2022

August 10, 2022

By Dolores Quintana Birdie G’s in Santa Monica has a new Happy Hour and it is something special. For one...

SMa.r.t. Column: Ode to the Future of My City

August 8, 2022

August 8, 2022

How sad it is to journey to Santa Monica and I can’t find it.The open blue sky hides behind canyon...

SMa.r.t. Column: Why Native Gardens?

July 22, 2022

July 22, 2022

Voltaire said it best at the end of his 1759 novel  Candide: “We must cultivate our own garden”. This simple...

SMa.r.t. Column: We’re All Wet – Not!

July 15, 2022

July 15, 2022

Don’t you think that if you heard, or read, statements from controlling government agencies that said you were threatened by...

Affordability Answer: A New Tax on Housing Speculators?

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist The TV commercials and online ads are fast becoming ubiquitous: “We’ll buy your house as is,”...

SMar.t. Column: Has the Promenade Turned a Corner?

July 8, 2022

July 8, 2022

In large complex systems with dynamically balanced forces, it’s paradoxically often hard to tell when something has actually happened, For...

Column: Groundwater Law Has Not Stopped Subsidence

July 1, 2022

July 1, 2022

By Tom Elias Drive almost any road in the vast San Joaquin Valley and you’ll see irrigation pipes standing up...

SMa.r.t. Column: It’s Time to Look at the Facts of Santa Monica’s Housing History

June 30, 2022

June 30, 2022

The Narrative: Santa Monica’s decades-long housing construction “shortage”  The Narrative endlessly repeats the refrain that for decades Santa Monica has...

SMa.r.t. Column: The Mansionization of Santa Monica

June 17, 2022

June 17, 2022

Editor’s note: This column originally appeared in print in 2016.  In the 1980s, Santa Monica’s single family zoning code was...

OP-Ed Response to DTSM Board Chair Barry Snell and Plea to City Council Regarding Safety Ambassadors and Ambassador Program

June 14, 2022

June 14, 2022

I am responding to the OP-ED (dated June 7, 2022, Santa Monica Mirror) by City-appointed DTSM Board Member and now...

SMa.r.t. Column: Wheeling Electrically

June 9, 2022

June 9, 2022

A recent weekend visit to Dana Point, on the Orange County coastline, revealed a curious scene: dozens, if not hundreds...

Population Loss: New Era or Pandemic Glitch?

June 3, 2022

June 3, 2022

By Tom Elias, Columnist The numbers suggest a major change is underway in California. It would take a Nostradamus to...