California lawmakers are getting an earful from constituents about the planned closure of 70 state parks due to budget cuts.
No surprise there. It's never been done before, and it hits a basic and popular service that hits taxpayers at a core level.
So it's also no surprise that lawmakers, who approved budget cuts leading to the closure plan, are sharply questioning details of that plan, and whether the California Department of Parks andRecreation is taking the right path.
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Assemblyman Roger Dickinson (D-Sacramento), who chairs the Assembly Accountability Committee, has summoned state parks officials and others to the Capitol on Tuesday.
His committee, along with the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, is skeptical that parks officials have adequately considered alternatives to a shutdown of fully one-fourth of the park system.
In announcing the plan earlier this year, Parks Director Ruth Coleman said, "We can no longer afford to operate all parks," given the need to save $11 million in the coming year.
The list targets properties with low visitation, and low revenue.
Parks officials have acknowledged there's no practical way to padlock large parks.
A "closed" sign won't keep people out. "The lack of a ranger or lifeguard presence may pose significant public safety risks," according to a memo prepared for Tuesday's hearing.
Critics also want to know if closure costs have been correctly assessed, if closures will jeopardize future federal funding, and most of all, if parks officials have looked thoroughly at alternatives to closure.
"Other states collect parks funding from voluntary vehicle license fees and state tax check-offs, specialized license plates and a dedicated tax on outdoor equipment," according to the committee memo.
That is a tough sell, considering that California voters rejected Prop 21 last year, which would have charged motorists an $18 auto registration fee to fund the state parks.
The Parks Department is keeping some properties open through partnerships with cities, counties, and non-profit agencies. But its budget dilemma continues to generate distress.
And that means some tough questions on Tuesday.