Could closure of state beaches sink coastal tourism?

(Penny Wise and Pound Foolish. Welcome to the Recession Era California that Will Drive Your Depression Era Relatives Crazy! – promoted by Brian Leubitz)

IT’S A NIGHTMARE that is likely playing over and over in the heads of tourism bureau directors in beach towns around California: how many visitor dollars will go away if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger really shuts down our state parks?

In seaside getaways all along the coast, the lure of the ocean draws tourists and their money, but the parking lots and campgrounds at most state-run beaches will be padlocked in a year if the governor’s proposal to close more than 80 percent of our state park system is approved. This will save the state $143 million and will likely put businesses dependent on visitors to state parks under water.

According to the California Travel Industry Association, studies have shown that every $1 that funds the state park system returns $2.35 to the General Fund, largely through economic activity in communities surrounding state parks. This is an estimated $350 million.

Ventura Visitors and Convention Bureau Director Jim Luttjohann is finding the possible closures sort of surreal. “It’s so huge it’s almost unfathomable,” he said. He just returned from a state conference on tourism where the mood was very somber. Schwarzenegger, who was scheduled to attend, didn’t show up. Other pressing matters kept him elsewhere, his staff explained.

For beachfront hotel owners on state lands, the prospect of fenced-off dunes must seem ludicrous. Luttjohann pointed to one Ventura hotel’s positioning near San Buenaventura State Beach, one of those on the closure list.

“We would have a beachside hotel where guests couldn’t go to the beach.”

ACCORDING TO THE GOVERNOR’S PROPOSAL, in July of 2010, 223 of our 279 state parks will be fenced off and closed to the public. In Ventura County and neighboring areas that would mean the closure of the popular San Buenaventura State Beach, Carpinteria State Beach, Emma Wood State Beach, El Capitan State Beach, Gaviota State Park, Leo Carrillo State Park, Malibu Creek State Park, Malibu Lagoon State Beach, McGrath State Beach, Refugio State Beach, Point Mugu State Park and Will Rogers State Historical Park.

It will also close access to the majestic beauty of Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz area and Anza-Borrego near San Diego, among many other treasured spots.

But closing a state park doesn’t necessarily mean people will stay out, Luttjohan pointed out. There will be issues of safety with no lifeguards available in beach areas, no public restroom facilities and no maintenance. Vagrants could easily set up camp and the area will quickly become blighted.

Closures will force more beachgoers to neighborhoods with beach access unaffected by the budget cuts, clogging beach lanes with parked cars.

BUT THERE IS A SOLUTION. It’s just not popular with the minority Republicans, who are against all new fees and taxes, even ones which could keep our state’s tourism industry from taking a huge hit. Today the Senate Republicans voted against this plan despite polling done last year showing 74 percent of respondents in favor.

A $15 surcharge on vehicle license fees has been proposed which would allow anyone with a California license plate free day-use to our parks. (For example, the $8 entrance fee to San Buenaventura State Beach in Ventura would be waived.) This would generate enough to keep all our state parks open with enough left over to pay off debt on past park bonds. But it needs a 2/3 vote by both houses of the legislature to pass.

Go visit a state park today while you can. Take a long walk on the beach or in the woods and ask yourself: is this something I want to live without? And how long do we let a stubborn minority ruin the state for the rest of us without offering any of their own solutions?

Marie Lakin is a community activist and writes the Making Waves blog for the Ventura County Star

8 thoughts on “Could closure of state beaches sink coastal tourism?”

  1. Yes, it would hurt tourism and, generally be a bad thing. But if the Dems in the Legislature knew how to play hardball, they would start by closing parks in Republican-held Districts. Give the Republican legislators what they want. And let them answer to their own constituents.

  2. Living, as I do, between two state parks, I see even larger impacts from their closure. The small mountain communities have few services. The county is closing the libraries because of a huge budget hole.

    My little town of 5,700 has a single grocery store and a couple of restaurants. All depend on tourists for a good part of their income. If they close, the closest store would be the Safeway the next Valley over. The only restaurants about the same distance.

    Those of us with cars could still get there. But bus service is spotty up here and a lot of folks would have a hard time, especially if that gets cut like the libraries. Because this is an inexpensive area to live, we do have a lot of retired residents and others who don’t drive. When the weather gets bad and our little mountain roads close–which they do regularly, and will more often as maintenance funds are cut–it will get even tougher to get to scarce shops.

    As people lose jobs because businesses close, rentals will join the foreclosure lists. And small towns like mine will no longer be able to support even small stores as our population dwindles. And the residents who can no longer live here will have an even harder time finding shelter in the more expensive housing markets that surround us. I don’t know where they’ll go.

    Just 15 miles down the mountain, hotels and restaurants that are already struggling in Santa Cruz will close their doors when the several state beaches are cut off. College students will lose the jobs that might have made up for their lost CalGrants. And a lovely, vital, seaside town will suffer the same problems as my mountains. My son’s new house will lose value as mine has, even though that area has not dropped as much as some until now.

    These boneheaded cuts are just the beginning of a downward spiral for the state of California that Republicans are trying to hang on Democratic spending. Unfortunately voter spending is more like it. Out-of-control proposition spending with no mandated funding mechanisms has left our state budget in a sorry fix. Even more unfortunate, the Republican insistence of draconian cuts and no revenue increases is likely to make it even worse.

    If you live in the district of a Republican legislator, it’s time to call and tell them so. Otherwise, your town could start to look like mine.

  3. Cutting the parks budget is a net loss to the general fund, so this can only be punishment.

  4. Without the state parks and beaches, we are hosed. From the beaches around the peninsula to the stunning Big Sur state parks (and Point Lobos as well) this region derives its living from the state parks system. Closing that system would be an act of madness.

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