The Californication of Golden State parks


Governor may close parks to balance the state budget


By Dianna Dilworth


Portola State Redwoods. Courtesy California State Parks Department

The Armstrong Redwoods in California, known for its nature trails, is the home of majestic trees including the Colonel Armstrong Tree, estimated to be more than 1400 years old.** But due to state budget cuts, the park may well be closed by summer along with its docent and community education program, which serves 5,500 school children a year.

 

Sonoma is just one of 48 state parks and 16 beaches in California in jeopardy of being shut down under Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s current proposal to balance the state’s 2008-2009 budget. With more than 270 park units, the closures amount to nearly 20 percent of the state system. While Schwarzenegger has admitted that he may be using scare tactics to highlight the state’s desperation, environmental groups are taking it seriously and citizen groups statewide are pushing back.

The California State Parks Foundation is calling on park visitors to send in photos of their favorite parks in order to build enthusiasm for the threatened open space. While Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods (who stand to lose their office if the Armstrong Redwoods State Park closes) is collecting personal and group stories like those at Armstrong, and encouraging people to send them to state legislators through its letter writing and e-mail campaign.

“We’ve spent 25 years building this volunteer program,” says Michele Luna, executive director for the Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, about the Sonoma program. “Not to mention that if the parks close, it will be a huge cost to get them up and running again.”

The proposed legislation to close the parks comes after Schwarzenegger—who is trying to balance a $14.5 billion budget deficit—asked California State Parks, and all other general fund departments and agencies to reduce expenses by 10 percent. The proposed reduction would cut $13.3 million out of the Parks Department’s operating budget.

“Taking 10 percent out of the parks operating costs is a lot for an already under funded organization,” says Jim Metropulos, legal representative for the Sierra Club of California. “This isn’t going to get the billions needed to cut the deficit, but it will be a huge hit for an agency that is already operating on a shoe string budget. The proposal calls to close, close to 20 percent of all total park units.”

Significant past reductions have brought funding from $250 million down to $35 million. To meet the new cuts, the Parks Department has proposed reducing its workforce by 136 permanent positions; salaries are the largest part of the budget. In addition, funding for about half of all seasonal workers—lifeguards, park aides, and maintenance staff—would be cut. Beach goers would be left to swim at their own risk.

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