Remember all that hullabaloo about closing all the state parks? "Nevermind," say state-park officials.
State parks officials have a mountain of explaining to do--as the park system reportedly had $54 million hidden in its coffers at the same time it was threatening to close down 70 parks due to lack of funds.
California parks director Ruth Coleman resigned Friday morning when news broke that the parks department had been under-reporting tens of millions of dollars over the course of more than a decade. Following Coleman's departure, acting Deputy Director Michael Harris was fired.
The Governor has ordered the state Department of Finance to conduct an investigation, and Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird says he has been told to conduct "a sweeping review" of Parks' management; the Attorney General's office will be conducting an investigation, as well, he said.
Coleman reportedly has denied knowing anything about the shadow funds until, she says, it was revealed a few days ago via an internal investigation by her staff.
Gov. Brown's belt-tightening plan to close 70 parks was said to save the state an estimated $22 million. The majority of those parks were spared closure as of the July 1 deadline thanks to community volunteers and private donations.
Marin state Assemblyman Jared Huffman has dedicated a large chunk of his last two years in the Assembly trying to find ways to keep Marin's state parks open--Tomales Bay, Olompali, Samuel P. Taylor and China Camp state parks were on the closure list. Earlier today, before the news of the scandal broke, the nonprofit group Friends of China Camp received an "early entry" permit to take over operations of the historic China Camp State Park. All these efforts, it seems, were largely unnecessary.
In a statement Friday, Huffman described himself as frustrated and shocked to learn the state parks officials had been "dishonest about their bottom line."
"As we've dealt with the parks funding crisis, I've repeatedly expressed my concern about the lack of transparency and the fortress mentality at State Parks," said Huffman.
"The only good news I can see from this scandal is that it will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious 'reset' to an agency that desperately needs it," he said.
The scandal could also have a ripple effect beyond the state park system--on Tuesday, July 24 the Marin County Board of Supervisors is expected endorse a proposed initiative on the November ballot for a countywide quarter-cent sales tax increase to fund local parks and agricultural land preservation. It's unclear if hidden-funds quake in Sacramento will lead to aftershocks at the local level.