State park closures raise difficult issues

What's happening with Bay Area green spaces -- including a list of parks that will be affected

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The recent state budget cuts remind us to treasure the natural beauty of California reflected in our state parks that we've taken for granted — until now. For the first time in state history, budget cuts will require closing up to 70 of our 278 state parks by July 1, 2012.

The closures are a result of the budget cuts of $11 million for the next fiscal year 2011-12. Another $11 million will be cut for the following fiscal year 2012-13. In the Bay Area alone, 20 state parks are set for closure, including Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County and Castle Rock State Park in Santa Cruz County. "These cuts are unfortunate, but the state's current budget crisis demands that tough decisions be made," Resources Secretary John Laird said in a prepared statement.

Because no state park has ever been closed before, "we're still figuring out what a closed park looks like," said Danita Rodriguez, state park superintendent of Marin County.

One option is to continue to let people into the parks, but without facilities—no potable water, no bathrooms. Rodriguez hopes to create new partnerships and operating agreements in an effort to keep some of the doomed parks open, at least seasonally. "We're in a whole new ball game right now," she said.

Though the state park system has no intention of privatizing its parks to keep them open, it is still developing plans and guidelines and could allow private companies to operate parks under state rules as equipment rental places and restaurants within parks already do.

"In Little Basin, there's United Camps Conferences and Retreats that operates the campground for us," said California Department of Parks and Recreation Deputy Director of Communications Roy Stearns. "If we can find more professional campground organizations that can run campgrounds, under our rules, we're going to consider it."

The goal is to keep the land public, but to keep it open with private sector help if necessary, a scenario that could raise controversial privatization issues depending on what the department allows. At least 92 percent of today's park attendance will be retained, even with the closure of 70 parks. But no one knows how the individual parks will be affected. "There are many unanswered questions," said Chet Bardo, state park superintendent of Santa Cruz County. One such question is, how do you close a beach?

"It would be very difficult to keep people out," Rodriguez said. But if you continue to let people in, they could act as extra eyes and ears to discourage vandalism.

Bardo suggested shortening the parks' open seasons. "We've just never done this before," so they don't know what's going to happen. Bardo is in the middle of submitting draft proposals for alternatives to full park closures, which could begin as early as February 2012, according to Stearns, as park employees begin getting laid off or moved to vacancies in other parks.

"Anybody who cares for their parks should visit them now and in the future, if they can," said Bardo. 

 

PARKS IDENTIFIED FOR CLOSURE IN BAY AREA

Candlestick Point State Recreation Area

Gray Whale Cove State Beach

Samuel P. Taylor State Park

Tomales Bay State Park

Castle Rock State Park

Portola Redwoods State Park

Henry W. Coe State Park

Twin Lakes State Beach

Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park

Brennan Island State Recreation Area

Benicia Capitol State Historic Park/Benicia State Recreation Area

Olompali State Historic Park

China Camp State Park

Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park

Annadel State Park

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park

Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park

Bothe-Napa Valley State Park

Austin Creek State Recreation Area

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