Huffman's Bill to Support Doomed State Parks Passes Assembly

Bill would allow nonprofits to help manage parks slated for closure because of state budget crisis, including Olompali near Novato.

San Anselmo and Fairfax's representative in the California Assembly received unanimous support Thursday on a bill that will help the beleaguered state park system —  — receive help from nonprofits.

The Assembly’s support of AB 42, authored by Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, means the bill moves into the state Senate for further consideration.

AB 42 authorizes the state Department of Parks and Recreation to enter into an operating agreement for the development, improvement, restoration, care, maintenance, administration or operation of a state park unit with a qualified nonprofit organization that exists to provide visitor services in state parks, facilitate public access, improve park facilities or provide interpretive and educational services.

The nonprofit would be required to provide an annual report with an accounting of all revenues and expenditures that would be made publicly available. All revenues received from the park could be expended only for the benefit of the state park unit. The nonprofit could contribute additional in-kind services and funding from outside entities for support of the park.

Huffman’s office said California state parks have suffered from years of neglect due to budget funding shortfalls, leading to last week’s announcement that Gov. Jerry Brown is planning to close 70 state parks, including four in Marin: Samuel P. Taylor, China Camp, Olompali, and Tomales Bay. Huffman said he believes the closure of state parks will do little to improve the state’s fiscal situation in the short run and only serve to harm state and local economies in the long run by losing tourism dollars. 

“We need to continue to seek stable long-term funding for state parks while at the same time work to facilitate other creative solutions, including public/private partnerships, to keep state parks open for the public’s benefit,” Huffman said.

Linda Dahl, director of Marin County Parks and Open Space, said that although she's spoken with the state parks about the county operating some of the threatened parks in this manner, the county simply doesn't have the budget.

"While I'm sympathetic, there's just no way to stretch my people any thinner," said Dahl.

The county parks and open space budget is $11 million, she said. The department, like most of the county departments, took a 10 percent cut last year and a five percent cut this year, and let go of three employees. The state, she said, spends $468,000 year just to manage China Camp with four full-time rangers.

Dahl said the county would be willing to discuss a way to take on the closed state parks, but the funding would have to come from some other nonprofit source. She said discussions are also underway with Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Almost 45 percent of entire statewide system of state historic parks are proposed for closure. The North Coast counties (Marin, Sonoma, Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte) have 22 parks on the closure list, accounting for 31 percent of the closures.

Traci Verardo-Torres, vice president of government affairs for the California State Parks Foundation, said passage of AB 42 in the Assembly is an important step toward keeping the parks protected and available to the public.

“Given the fact that 70 state parks are planned for closure because of budget cuts, the legacy of our state parks is at risk,” she said. “There is clearly a need to continue fighting for a long-term solution to preserving that legacy. But in the immediate, AB 42 will help invite nonprofit organizations to help protect our parks as closures loom.”  

The parks foundation president, Elizabeth Goldstein, went a step further by declaring in a press release that, “We are not going to stand by as our state parks system is closed and dismantled. California’s state park system belongs to the people of California and its existence is critical to the state’s environmental, economic and civic fabric.

"Poor choices made now will forever change the state parks system. When state parks are closed, their natural and cultural resources may suffer such significant harm that it may be impossible to recover these gems later, either because of great cost to correct the deterioration or because the harm is irreparable. Added to that will be a loss of economic opportunities in communities surrounding these parks.”


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