Tag Archives: state parks

Happy 200th Birthday to Fort Ross

Ft. Ross / SonomaRussian settlement was one of first European Settlements along the northern coast

by Brian Leubitz

Fort Ross is really quite beautiful, in any number of ways. The location is stunningly picturesque along the Sonoma Coast. The restored Russian buildings are an interesting sight, and park system has done a great job with it.  This post isn’t really all that political, other than the fact that Ft. Ross is occasionally slated for closure on various lists.

I’ll spare you the full historical details, you can find much of that information here, but briefly I’ll tell you that 200 years ago, in 1812, the Russians settled a small bay in order to extend their Alaskan holdings. That settlement eventually became Fort Ross, an ultimately unsuccessful venture that was sold to John Sutter in 1841. Over the years, the area has been many things, and the history is just fascinating.

If you happen to be on the Sonoma Coast (and you really should make it your business to be on the Sonoma Coast sometime in the very near future), stop at Fort Ross. And thanks to Sen. Noreen Evans for reminding me that this was the 200th anniversary.


What Happens Now to State Parks?

State Parks face difficult questions regarding $54 in reserve

by Brian Leubitz

In an interesting KQED Forum program, Elizabeth Goldstein, head of the California State Parks Foundation, discussed the possiblities of what could happen with the excess funds that were hidden for a decade or more:

Goldstein has reason to be cautious. Of the $54 million surplus, $33.5 million is in the Off Highway Vehicle Trust Fund and can only be spent on off-highway vehicle services. That leaves $20.4 million in the Parks and Recreation Fund for the state legislature to re-allocate to keep the parks open, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Sunday.

There’s no word on when or if the legislature will consider re-allocating the funds.

“We all hope the legislature is going to rededicate this funding… to state parks,” Goldstein said. “This is one of the things that should be on everyone’s list.”

But even if the legislature approves the re-allocation, it still won’t solve all the parks’ financial issues. Goldstein noted that the department has a $1.3 billion maintenance backlog that needs to be addressed.(KQED)

That backlog is growing by the day. If you walk around the state parks for a while (I’m a huuuge fan of the state parks), you’ll notice fixes that have been left undone for too long. A broken step, or poor trail maintenance, to the larger items like maintenance on structures.  There is just a lot to be done. And like the rest of California’s infrastructure, there just isn’t enough money to get the job done.

$54 is a lot of money, don’t get me wrong. But this pot of change isn’t going to address the larger issues with the state parks. Fundamentally they are being starved of resources at the same time as they have been going through a prolonged leadership crisis.  I know John Laird has been working to improve the parks, and the interim director, Janelle Beland, brings some great experience. But, when it comes down to it, the system just hasn’t been managed as well as other state park systems and especially the national park system.

We have many priorities to be funded in an overstretched budget, but ignoring the parks comes only at our peril.

State Park System Was Hiding $54mil

State Park system had been holding on to money for nearly 12 years

by Brian Leubitz

Over the last few years, hundreds of state park closures have been narrowly avoided, and many have actually occurred. At the same time, the state park system has been squirreling away 54 million dollars:

State Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned this morning and her second in command has been fired after officials learned the department has been sitting on nearly $54 million in surplus money for as long as 12 years.(SacBee)

Now, in some ways, you hate to drive out people for doing what very may well be long-term planning. However, the Legislature, as the body empowered by the voters to decide how our state revenue is spent, should have had that information. Maybe they would have used it to keep all parks open or to keep the parks open longer hours. Maybe they would have diverted it elsewhere, but ultimately that should have been the Legislature’s call.

That $54 million is a one-time thing, and won’t be repeating. Details on how that gets distributed weren’t available yet.

UPDATE: Gov. Brown just appointed Janelle Beland acting interim director of the CA Parks and Rec Dept. Hopefully the quick transition will get the department back on the right track right away.

State Parks Still on the Chopping Block

A few months ago I set a new personal goal: get into nature at least once a week.  It really didn’t matter what I ended up doing as long as it took me outdoors – hike, trail run, rock climb, wildlife watch, camp, picnic, paddle, soak, swim, sunbathe, backpack, photograph wildflowers… You get the idea.

And what a grand idea it was!  Not only have I enjoyed doing all of those activities, but I’ve also gotten to explore Californian parks that I previously knew little about, if at all.

My guess is that you have a story similar to mine – a love for California’s vast and varied open spaces and all that they have to offer.  After all, it’s hard to live in such a beautiful state and not get out and enjoy its natural features in one form or another.

And now, here’s the bad news: many of these treasured open spaces may not be accessible much longer.

Last year Governor Brown called for the closure of 70 state parks.  Included on the the hit list are parks that I’ve fallen in love with like Henry Coe State Park where you can hike amongst old oaks and madrones to a picturesque swimming hole, and Castle Rock State Park where I first began rock climbing.

This week park funding came back into the news with Governor Brown’s release of the May budget revise.  Not only are parks still on the table for closure, but the revised budget proposes more cuts to the funding of game wardens, rangers, and lifeguards.  Those cuts come at a time where the State Park System is already understaffed and overburdened with deferred maintenance totaling to over $1 billion.  Furthermore, these parks suffer from the pains of a tightened budget as access prices increase, hours of operation diminish, and select facilities, trails, or camping areas close.

What doesn’t make sense is this: continued cuts to the State Park System will not save money, but will in fact cost the state more in the long run.  Closing parks means:

   — a loss of revenue for local communities neighboring parks and for the state via taxes generated by tourism;

   — increases in deferred maintenance once the parks reopen their gates; and

   — costs associated with addressing crime, vandalism, and other illegal activities like marijuana cultivation.

While some of the parks on the closure list have found ways to stay open thanks to financial support from their communities or intervention from nonprofits (including Castle Rock and Henry Coe SPs), others have not been so lucky.

Fortunately, Assemblymember Jared Huffman is championing a bill that would provide diverse funding for the State Parks System.  Assembly Bill 1589, the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012, addresses short- and long-term needs for California state parks, achieving budget savings without wide scale park closures.

Specifically, AB 1589 would:

   — Encourage formation of a state compact that guarantees an ongoing level of state funding for operations and maintenance of state parks.

   — Create a State Park Enterprise Fund to be used for installing modern revenue and fee collection equipment and technologies to increase park visitation and revenues.

   — Produce a California state park environmental license plate which vehicle owners could purchase and have the fees go towards support of state parks.

   — Provide the option for taxpayers to voluntarily purchase an annual state park access pass when they file their taxes.

   — Require the Department of Parks and Recreation to be more transparent about how it evaluates and selects specific parks for closure, and places a cap of 25 state park units on the number of park closures allowed from 2012 to 2016 without legislative approval.

TAKE ACTION: Ask your legislator to support AB 1589, the California State Parks Stewardship Act, today!

On State Park Privatization

Measure by Jared Huffman would allow non-profits to run parks

by Brian Leubitz

I’ve brought up the subject of “privatization” of state parks in the past, and mentioned that I’m quite fond of the Willow Creek extension to the Sonoma Coast state park that is managed by a non-profit, LandPaths.

However, a new law passed by Asm. Jared Huffman would allow state parks to be run by a nonprofit organization.  To put it lightly, there are progressives on both sides of this issue.  But the CA State Parks Foundation has been pushing for this legislation.

“Nonprofit organizations have been supporting the state park system throughout its more than 100 year history, and AB 42 provides another venue for that critical support,” said Traci Verardo-Torres, Vice President of Government Affairs for the California State Parks Foundation, the organizational sponsor of the bill. “Across the state, park advocates and concerned Californians are coming together to identify creative, collaborative solutions to keep our parks protected and open for public access. Allowing nonprofits to help keep state parks open will help parks that would otherwise close, and will engage Californians in safeguarding the resources that belong to all of us.”

Let’s put the first caveat out there: we should not be dealing with this.  We should have enough money to run our state parks, and pay for our higher education.  But, because of both GOP extremism and some crazy governmental structures, we have to make choices.

LandPaths is a tremendous organization with some really dedicated staff who are willing to go to incredible lengths to get the job done.  And I’m sure the other organizations who are going to take up this challenge are good groups as well.  But this has to be a very temporary fix. This is most definitely not a permanent solution to anything, and we need to ensure that this kind of mess does not happen in the future.

The Republican Plan to Privatize the Parks

Once upon a time, there was a place so magical, that there were places that anybody could go.  Rich and poor could, heaven forbid, mingle in the glory of nature.  These places were even free to enter.  It was a magical place.

Of course, the days of free state parks has long since passed by the wayside. While we all would have loved to see Prop 21 pass, thereby ensuring a steady revenue stream for the parks system, it did not.  And so we are back to fighting about which parks to close.

Republicans have previously floated the idea of park sponsorships, but today, in an email from the Senate Republican caucus, they outright call for privatization of our parks system.

Privatizing park operations can provide significant benefits to taxpayers. When a contractor agrees to run a park or group of parks on behalf of a public agency, that agency removes the subsidized units from its ledger. On top of that, the state can receive lease payments in return. It is common for contractors to pay 10% or more of gate receipts, similar to what is charged for many concessions.

Park goers also benefit from private operations, as the operators have a financial incentive to enhance the visitor experience. Though they are limited by contract parameters, contractors can create a host of added benefits for visitors such as: Improved maintenance,Potential expanded facilities, Reduced risk of park closures or service cutbacks.  …

As the budget ax falls on state parks, multiple measures are making their way through the process to look at new ways of managing them. SB 356 (Blakeslee) requires DPR to allow cities and counties the first shot at operating a state park proposed for closure, while SB 386 (Harman) requires the posting of any proposed park closure, and the posting of contact information for potential vendors interested in bidding on the park. AB 42 (Huffman) authorizes the use of nonprofit entities to manage parks that would otherwise be closed.

In fact, state law already allows DPR to lease state parks and facilities to private vendors, but the department has been reluctant to use it. In a March response to a letter from Sen. Tom Harman, the department claimed it is “considering the option” of leases. Still the department has not issued any contracts for bid for an entire park, and has reported only one new concessions agreement in the past year.

Ultimately the Legislature must force the bureaucracy’s hand. There may be better ways to manage our parks, and keep them open during difficult fiscal times, but it will not be charted by the current management.

Wow, just wow.  This whole premise is still based on one, supremely messed up, underlying notion: parks are something that should be monetized.  But what if you view parks as something else entirely?  The birthright of all Californians that should be free for them to enjoy as nature intended.  In other words, they should be free.  

Now, this isn’t to blame those that care for our parks when the state can’t.  In Sonoma County, I’m a big fan of LandPaths.  They run and maintain, through donations and people-power, several large parks in Sonoma County, including the Willow Creek Extension to Sonoma Coast State Park.  These are some damned dedicated people who are extremely worthy of our support.

But yet I return to the central premise of how treat each other in California.  Do we care for each other enough to invest in our society, or are we really okay with the Social Darwinism?  We own these parks, and why exactly can we not afford to maintain them without bringing in a for-profit company to manage them?

Oh that’s right, the rich don’t want to pay taxes anymore.

And So It Goes: 70 State Parks Closed

Well, this was telegraphed for a while, with the Governor hedging on the parks system.  But today we get the news that the state parks system is closing down 70 state parks.

State parks officials today announced the closure of 70 parks because of the state budget deficit, including the governor’s mansion and the Stanford mansion in Sacramento.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget plan proposed reducing the state parks budget by $22 million. The Legislature in March approved $11 million in cuts to state parks and $10 million in cuts to off highway vehicle parks in the next fiscal year, with $22 million in cuts to state parks in future years.(SacBee)

The state parks system attempted to cut judiciously, and claim that they will retain 92% of visitors and 94% of revenues.  And that’s all well and good, but what does it say about our state that we can’t even afford our state parks?  Do we look like a state that will offer the next generation a better future as we are cutting our parks and slashing education funding?

Over the flip you’ll find the list of state park closures.

Anderson Marsh SHP

Annadel SP

Antelope Valley Indian Museum

Austin Creek SRA

Bale Grist Mill SHP

Benbow Lake SRA

Benicia Capitol SHP

Benicia SRA

Bidwell Mansion SHP

Bothe-Napa Valley SP

Brannan Island SRA

California Mining & Mineral Museum

Candlestick Point SRA

Castle Crags SP

Castle Rock SP

China Camp SP

Colusa-Sacramento River SRA

Del Norte Coast Redwoods SP

Fort Humboldt SHP

Fort Tejon SHP

Garrapata SP

George J. Hatfield SRA

Governor’s Mansion SHP

Gray Whale Cove SB

Greenwood SB

Grizzly Creek Redwoods SP

Hendy Woods SP

Henry W. Coe SP

Jack London SHP

Jug Handle SNR

Leland Stanford Mansion SHP

Limekiln SP

Los Encinos SHP

Malakoff Diggins SHP

Manchester SP

McConnell SRA

McGrath SB

Mono Lake Tufa SNR

Morro Strand SB

Moss Landing SB

Olompali SHP

Palomar Mountain SP

Petaluma Adobe SHP

Picacho SRA

Pio Pico SHP

Plumas-Eureka SP

Point Cabrillo Light Station

Portola Redwoods SP

Providence Mountains SRA

Railtown 1897 SHP

Russian Gulch SP

Saddleback Butte SP

Salton Sea SRA

Samuel P. Taylor SP

San Pasqual Battlefield SHP

Santa Cruz Mission SHP

Santa Susana Pass SHP

Shasta SHP

South Yuba River SP

Standish-Hickey SRA

Sugarloaf Ridge SP

Tomales Bay SP

Tule Elk SNR

Turlock Lake SRA

Twin Lakes SB

Weaverville Joss House SHP

Westport-Union Landing SB

William B. Ide Adobe SHP

Woodson Bridge SRA

Zmudowski SB

The State Park Conundrum

In a treeIf you’ve read much of my writing here in the past, you’ll have seen that I’m a pretty big fan of the state park system.  I’m something of an outdoor enthusiast, with a particular love for hiking in my coastal neighborhood.

But for the past several years, the parks have been in a constant state of flux due to the budget crisis.  Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing 80% of them, which would be a tragedy for the system, and for the state.  Jerry Brown doesn’t seem to want to go that high, but he’s clearly on the way to closing some parks.  He just won’t tell you which and how many:

Brown instructed the state parks department to draw up by mid-February a list of parks to be closed to save $11 million this year and $22 million next year.

But today, three months later, as millions of Californians prepare for summer vacations to state beaches, forests and historic sites, the names of the parks to be closed remain a tightly held secret.

The lack of disclosure has rangers anxious, legislators uninformed and parks advocates frustrated.

“We’re quite disturbed we haven’t seen the list,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation, a nonprofit advocacy group. “We think if there’s any chance for the nonprofit community to step up and help the state when it looks like parks are going to be closing, the more time organizations have to plan, the more likely we’ll find some kind of interim solutions.” (MediaNews)

There are a number of problems here. First, the State Park system brings in a not insignificant amount of money to the state, through tourism and related expenses.  That tax revenue won’t just completely dry up and will likely find other mechanisms and other parks, but it simply won’t be totally replaced.

There is of course another option that continually peers its head over the parks system. Privatization.  And really, if we were to close any significant parks you would expect such privatization to start its creep pretty quickly.  Of course, it would start rather benignly, with the offer to help “support” a park, for some form of advertising, and then it would eventually grow to parks being owned and/or operated by outside systems.

In fact, I know this to be true.  Take the Willow Creek Addition to the Sonoma Coast State Park.  It was given to the state in the early part of this decade, but we couldn’t afford to take it in.  So, a really great non-profit, LandPaths, stepped up to help run it.  They don’t charge anything, but they do require that you go to an orientation to be able to enter the park.  They just don’t have the resources to provided a complete level of services that you’d find at a state park.  

Don’t get me wrong, I think LandPaths is providing a tremendous service, but I think even the folks there would prefer that the park be integrated into the state parks system.  Parks should be public, with open access to anybody who wants to visit.

So, at some point we’ll get some sort of list, likely after the budget process.  And non-profits will go about finding some way for at least some of those parks to stay open.  But, it will be one more step on the road to public/private state parks, where they cost more to enter, and what was once California’s promise steps further away from reality.


How did your representatives vote on the environment?

California’s clean air and water, pristine coastline, wild open spaces and public health protections don’t happen by accident. They happen because champions for the environment run for office, and once they’re elected, they work to pass laws that protect our natural resources and improve our quality of life.

Today the California League of Conservation Voters released our annual California Environmental Scorecard. The Scorecard is the behind-the-scenes look at the battle to protect the Golden State’s natural legacy and public health, and reveals how the governor and members of the state legislature voted on critical environmental proposals in the 2010 legislative session. Take action and let your legislators know what you think about their 2010 scores: Visit http://www.ecovote.org/

The story of the 2010 Scorecard is as much about how the environmental community stopped multiple attacks on the environment as it is about how we passed strong laws that protect our quality of life. But the story doesn’t end there, because we expect more attacks in 2011 that falsely claim we need to sacrifice the environment in order to improve the economy.

Emboldened by the tough economic climate, anti-environmental legislators introduced dozens of so-called “regulatory reform” bills in 2010 in an attempt to weaken environmental protections. The good news is that, with the help of environmental champions in the state Senate and Assembly, CLCV and our allies successfully defeated the bills that posed the most serious threats to the environment and public health. At the same time, environmental advocates were able to deliver several important proposed laws to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk, including bills dealing with energy storage, recycling, water conservation, pesticides, clean energy jobs, and oil spill prevention.

Schwarzenegger’s 2010 score of 56% factored into an average lifetime score of 53 percent over his seven years as governor. The governor received national recognition for leadership on environmental issues. However, he leaves office with a mixed legacy, having championed some issues-notably, bold solutions to climate change-and having proven less reliable on others, including protecting public health and state parks.

How did your legislator perform on the environmental community’s priority legislation to protect the environment and public health? Learn your legislators’ scores and then let them know what you think! (More after the jump).

2010 California Environmental Scorecard Highlights:

Governor Schwarzenegger 56% (leaves office with 53% average score)

Senate average: 59%

Senate Democrats: 91%

Senate Republicans: 6%

Senators with 100% score: 12

Highest Scoring Senate Republican: Blakeslee, 21%

Lowest Scoring Senate Democrat: Correa, 30%

Assembly average: 64%

Assembly Democrats: 94%

Assembly Republicans: 7%

Assemblymembers with 100% score: 30

Highest Scoring Assembly Republican: Fletcher, 19%

Lowest Scoring Assembly Democrat: Huber, 43%

Perfect 100%:

Senators: Alquist, Cedillo, Corbett, DeSaulnier, Hancock, Kehoe, Leno, Liu, A. Lowenthal, Pavley, Steinberg, Yee.

Assemblymembers: Ammiano, Bass, Beall, Blumenfield, Bradford, Brownley, Carter, Chesbro, Coto, de Leon, Eng, Evans, Feuer, Gatto, Hayashi, Hill, Huffman, Jones, Lieu, B. Lowenthal, Monning, Nava, J. Pérez, Ruskin, Salas, Saldaña, Skinner, Swanson, Torlakson, Yamada.

The California Environmental Scorecard is an important tool for environmental voters, who for nearly 40 years have helped CLCV deliver on our mission to hold elected officials accountable to their campaign promises to protect California’s families and natural heritage.

With the introduction this year of a new interactive, online Environmental Scorecard, CLCV is making it even easier for voters to communicate with their elected officials about their environmental performance.

Please know the score and take action today! Visit http://www.ecovote.org/

Governor’s Budget Proposal: Environmental Programs Share in the Sacrifice

Programs that fund state parks, maintain wild open spaces, protect wild lands from forest fires, fund public transportation and more are all on the table in Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed budget.  

Make no mistake, there is a lot for environmental advocates (and everyone else) to hate about this proposed budget. But with a two-thirds majority in the state legislature required to pass new taxes and now (thanks to Prop 26) new fees, and with legislative Republicans refusing thus far to consider any new sources of revenue, Governor Brown must work with the hand he was dealt.

During his campaign for governor, Brown promised voters that he would put a halt to the gimmicks that served as short-term Band-Aids on budget shortfalls in the past. He promised a tough but fair budget that – in closing an estimated $25 billion budget shortfall – would spare few of the state’s programs and services. And he has mostly made good on that promise, with the most profound cuts in the areas where the state spends the most – health & social services and higher education. The total proposed spending cuts: a staggering $12.5 billion.

For now, Governor Brown’s budget spares the state’s K-12 public education system, preferring to allow voters to decide in a special election to agree to a five-year extension of $12 billion in taxes that will otherwise expire this year (including vehicle licensing fees, state sales taxes and state income taxes) or allow even deeper cuts to California’s programs and services, including to the K-12 system.

Here’s a summary of how environmental programs fared in the governor’s first budget proposal:

Natural Resources

As expected, the agency will share in the sacrifice being asked of all levels of state government. On the one hand, we’re relieved that the cuts proposed to the agency were fairly minimal (at least as a percentage of the overall budget cuts). On the other, the worst of the cuts are to the already-struggling state parks budget (which totaled $406 million last year). The $11 million proposed cuts this year and $22 million more in ongoing cuts will result in some parks closing and/or more restricted park hours for the public. As the California State Parks Foundation points out, budget reductions over the past few years have already left the parks system operating with 150 partial closures and service reductions.

We’re waiting for a more specific list of proposed closures and service reductions before making a complete assessment-according to a state finance department spokesman, Brown asked State Parks Director Ruth Coleman to submit by February a list of the parks that will have reduced hours or will be closed completely. Cuts this deep will magnify the budget reductions already sustained by the state parks in recent years and they are sobering, to say the least.

California Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said it was necessary for his agency to share in the short-term sacrifice:

“This Governor is determined to upright California’s budget… Fixing the long-term problem requires sacrifice from each Californian–and certainly the Natural Resources Agency–in the short-term. If California is to achieve a long-term vision for natural resources management that plays a role in restoring the state’s economy, the governor’s plan is the right path.”

Delta Restoration

The Bay Delta Ecosystem Restoration Account was zeroed out in the budget. Questions remain about how to implement BDCP in light of this.

Open Space

The proposal also zeroes out all $10 million in state funding for The California Land Conservation Act-commonly referred to as the Williamson Act. For decades, the Act has helped keep large parcels of land in California as open space by enabling local governments to enter into contracts with private landowners for the purpose of restricting specific parcels of land to agricultural or related open space use. The incentive: lower-than-normal property tax assessments (based on farming and open space uses versus full market value).

The revenue for some rural counties under the Act has been significant. Eliminating funding may force some landowners to allow their lands to be developed for housing or retail, contributing to sprawl and allowing more of California’s precious open space to disappear.


Surprisingly, transportation fared pretty well in this budget, with funding levels left unchanged from last year. According to the San Jose Mercury News:

Transportation officials say Brown’s plan would provide a stable source of funding for transit and highway planning across the state, and that could speed up work on some projects.”


Brown’s budget proposes changing the way the state battles wildfires, reducing the number of firefighters to pre-2003 staffing levels and shifting a significant amount of fire-fighting responsibility to cities and counties. (This is just one of many areas where Brown proposes a wholesale restructuring of the relationship between state and local governments.) Some experts on wildfires have already reacted warily to the proposal (read more in the Mercury News: http://www.mercurynews.com/bre…

Environmental Protection

The $71 million reduction ($12 million from the general fund) is one of the biggest cuts to the environment in the proposed budget. As with much of the above, we await details on these cuts.

Click here for the full budget summary: http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/