California could be forced to close up to 100 state parks after last-minute line-item vetoes and other cuts in the state budget resulted in
an estimated $38.6-million loss in parks funding for the coming fiscal year, California State Parks officials said Tuesday.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger eliminated $6.2 million on top of the Legislature's $8 million in cuts to the department, which--combined with
reduced tobacco tax revenues, lost value of work days from furloughs, and an estimated loss in revenue from closing parks--will result in a $51.6 million loss over the next two years, officials said.
Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, said in a news teleconference Tuesday that the losses could result in state parks' first budget-related closures in history.
At 21 percent, the losses are the biggest cuts percentage-wise the parks budget has ever experienced, and the situation is exacerbated by the fact that the cuts come on top of major parks funding reductions in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, Coleman said.
She said her agency is working with communities to identify partners such as businesses, nonprofits and local governments that might be able to help keep the parks open, but officials believe some closures are unavoidable.
"A lot of our parks are thinly staffed," she said. "You only lose a few staff members when you close each park, so you have to close a lot of parks to make the necessary budget reductions."
It is not yet clear which parks might be closed, but figures such as how much a park costs to run, how much revenue it generates, and whether other entities will contribute to it will be factored into those decisions, Coleman said.
Coleman said she doesn't have a preliminary list of parks on the chopping block because her department is still hoping to reduce the number of closures by finding community partners.
"Assume that every park is vulnerable and step up to the plate if you have any capacity at all to do so," she said.
Volunteer labor can only go so far, she said, and already, 30 percent of California's state parks are mostly volunteer-run, with only a few part-time staff members.
Legally, volunteers are not allowed to do policing, and they typically don't want to clean bathrooms, Coleman added. Financial assistance is therefore essential to keeping the parks open, she said.
"We will look at seasonal closures, partial closures--closing part and keeping part open," Coleman said. "We're looking at options for letting parks be available a few days a week. We don't like the idea of having these parks closed completely 356 days per year."
The one thing she won't do, though, is sell the parks.
"All park sales have to be approved by the Legislature," she said. "But we don't look at this as a permanent situation. We are not looking to sell any of the state park units."