Lawmakers Work Across Party Lines to Limit State Park Closures

A bipartisan bill uses several strategies to prevent dozens of parks from closing

By Melissa Pamer, John Simerson and Conan Nolan
|  Friday, May 25, 2012  |  Updated 8:09 PM PDT
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A bipartisan bill from Sacramento lawmakers seeks new revenue -- even specialty state parks license plates -- to prevent dozens of parks from closing. Conan Nolan reports for the NCB4 News at 5 p.m. on May 25, 2012.

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A bipartisan bill from Sacramento lawmakers seeks new revenue -- even specialty state parks license plates -- to prevent dozens of parks from closing. Conan Nolan reports for the NCB4 News at 5 p.m. on May 25, 2012.

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A new effort is underway to prevent California from closing dozens of state parks that are slated to be shut down because of Sacramento's budget cuts.

In a rare show of bipartisanship in the Legislature, a bill has emerged that would attempt to save state parks from the looming closures.

"State parks are an essential part of our heritage," said Assemblyman Jared Huffman (D-Marin County) at a Monday press conference heralding the bill.

"They are an essential part of our legacy as Californians and they are part of what make this state great. They are also worth saving," Huffman continued.

The new legislation would allow Californians to purchase specialty license plates with proceeds going to parks. The bill would also let taxpayers purchase an annual state parks pass while filling out their tax forms, with the money being deducted from tax returns.

Assembly Bill 1589 – the California State Park Stewardship Act of 2012 (PDF) – would limit to 25 the number of parks that could close between now and 2016. It would take $25 million in revenue from a previously approved state bonds mean to be used for water quality and coastal concerns.

Last May, the Department of Parks and Recreation released a list of 70 parks – many of them historic parks – that it would be forced to close because of $22 million budget cut. The parks are expected to close June 30.

The closures would mean more a quarter of the sites in the nation’s largest state parks system would be shut down because of budget cuts. The closure list included sites ranging from coastal lighthouses to Gold Rush ghost towns.

Since last year, about 17 of those parks have been saved from closure by local fundraising efforts, including a $150,000 anonymous donation that will keep Los Encinos State Historic Park in Encino open for another year.

On Thursday, Riverside County business representatives and chambers of commerce appealed to Gov. Jerry Brown to keep the parks open. Their message resonated with Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation.

"State parks provide a clear economic benefit. That is why so many chambers of commerce and business groups are coming to their defense," Goldstein said. "We understand that the governor is cutting many line items in the budget, but the cuts to our state parks are counterproductive to the overall economy and to the more than 100-year commitment to preserving these priceless public assets."

Department of Parks and Recreation spokesman Roy Stearns said the agency is working to minimize the number of closures.

"However, we know what the state's budget reality is, and that's something we have to live with," Stearns said. "What we're trying to do, fast and furious and aggressively, is work to keep parks open to protect local economies... if at all possible."

Even if the bill passes, the money won’t arrive until next year, which is too late for the 70 parks slated to close.

Lawmakers hope the promise of revenue will open the door for other stop-gap funding measures for the short term to protect the remaining gold left in the Golden State.

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