Calif. parks closure plans remain a mystery

TAHOE/TRUCKEE - Once again, the expected list of California state park closures has been delayed.

Roy Stearns, deputy director of communications for California State Parks, said the decision making process has proven more complicated in picking the roughly 100 parks needed to close to make up for the state budget shortfall.

Earlier this summer, the California Legislature voted to take $8 million from the state parks funding. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger took another $6.2 million.

The parks department has to close about 100 of the state's 279 parks.

"We want to make sure we get it right," Stearns said. "There's been a huge amount of discussion and analysis."

California State Parks is now aiming to make the announcement next week, but Stearns said that could change.

"We see the closure list as a working document, so we can make changes if possible," Stearns said.

Twenty parks out of the state's 279 are still taking reservations, making them relatively safe from closure, Stearns said. No Tahoe/Truckee area parks are on that list.

"Those are the giant Southern California beaches that get millions of visitors and the reservoirs that get other funding," Stearns said.

All other parks' reservations are on hold for 30 days.

Once the list comes out, different parks could close at different rates, taking up to a few months before being closed, Stearns said. Others could go faster, depending on how easy it is to transfer staff and shut down operations.

Closure logistics unclear

How the state could effectively shut down vast tracks of public land remains undecided.

Without knowing which parks will be slated for closure, it's impossible to say exactly how the public would be prevented from using the closed parks, said Pam Armas, California State Parks' Sierra District supervisor.

A memorandum from the California Department of Parks and Recreation Legal Office this week notes the likelihood that closed parks will be used anyway, leaving the state susceptible to significant liability.

"Turning a blind eye to public use of a closed park is problematic," according to the memo. "As a public entity, state parks can be held responsible for dangerous conditions that it should have known existed on its property, as well as those it actually knew existed."

Increased risk of wildfires, marijuana plantations and other dangers to the public from improperly maintained parkland are what can be expected once closures are made, according to a statement from Public Employees for Environmental Responsi-bility, an advocacy group for federal and state employees.

"Closing parks may be far more expensive than keeping them open and operating," said Karen Schambach, the California coordinator for the group, in the statement. "Paradoxically, in order to avoid losses of life and property, California will need to spend its supposed savings to keep families out of beaches, parks and recreation areas."

Outside efforts

Outside of California State Parks, environmental and conservation organizations are looking for long-term solutions to the state park budget and closures.

Jerry Emory, director for the California State Parks Foundation, said they're still trying to gain traction with a $15 vehicle licensing fee that would not only fund all state parks, but help catch up on a $1.2 billion deferred maintenance log.

The San Jose Mercury News reported the Nature Conservancy, National Audubon Society, Trust for Public Land, Save-the-Redwoods League and others have raised nearly $1 million toward placing a ballot measure on the November 2010 ballot for the $15 license fee.

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