Advocates of California's state park system packed a budget conference committee meeting in Sacramento this week to argue against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposal to close more than 200 state parks, including several in the Bay Area.
The proposal, part of Schwarzenegger's May revision for the 2009-2010 budget announced last week, would eliminate all $143.4 million of the state's general fund contributions to the state park system over a two-year period.
More than 100 people filled an auditorium at the State Capitol for the public hearing, according to Anthony Matthews, spokesman for Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, who is the Assembly chair of the bicameral committee.
Matthews said this was the first time the state's budget conference committee has taken public comment, and that it has taken more than 30 hours worth of comments on various proposed budget cuts, and that about 2,000 people provided either verbal or written comments to the committee during recent meetings.
Jerry Emory, a spokesman for the California State Parks Foundation, said a vast majority of the speakers at the Tuesday hearing were against the closures and argued that eliminating the funds would harm the state's economy rather than help it.
"They talked about how it's going to impact the communities around the state parks that rely on people driving through their town and spending money there," Emory said.
Emory said advocates have sent thousands of faxes to legislators in Sacramento, and "have been driving a lot of offices crazy."
Matthews said the Legislature understands the concerns of the park advocates, but said "the challenge that we're facing is that once you take something off the table you have to put something else back on."
The loss in funding would cause the closure of up to 223 state parks, or about 80 percent of all state parks in California, according to California State Parks spokesman Roy Stearns.
Henry W. Coe State Park near Morgan Hill, Candlestick Point State Recreation Area in San Francisco, Tomales Bay State Park and Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park were examples that Stearns said could be vulnerable if the Legislature decides to go through with the cuts.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has asked the Legislature to pass a budget by June 15. Matthews said the budget conference committee, which is comprised of five assembly members and five state senators, will soon make their recommendations to the full Legislature.