In California, "Fantastic" State Parks News Doesn't Hold Up to Scrutiny

Posted on: September 28th, 2009 by National Trust for Historic Preservation 13 Comments

Written by Anthony Veerkamp

Last week, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger issued a press release concerning the fate of California’s state parks. Judging by most of the media coverage that ensued, you’d think that parks advocates had scored a major victory.

Alas, what the Governor called “fantastic news for all Californians" turns out on closer reading to be just a fantasy. The fact that so many media outlets apparently failed to read beyond the headline “Gov. Schwarzenegger Announces Plan to Keep State Parks Open” speaks volumes about the dire state of political reporting out of the State Capitol.

All you had to do was read a few lines into the press release to recognize the political doublespeak. Park closures were going to be avoided by “reducing hours and/or days of operation at most State Park units. (…) Examples of service reductions include: (1) some facilities will close weekdays and be open on weekends and holidays, (2) portions of a unit may be closed, such as the back loop of a campground, (3) for a park with multiple campgrounds, one whole campground or day use facility may be closed while the rest of the park remains open, and (4) parks that already closed due to seasonal conditions may see a longer closure.”

Beautiful. By redefining what it means to close a park, it turns out that closures can be avoided. This game of semantics may have bought the Governor a couple days of positive media, but did nothing to address the $14.2 million hole in this year’s parks budget. In fact, the Governor’s plan bears out what the National Trust for Historic Preservation has been saying all along: that closing parks doesn’t really save money. In fact, all of the contemplated closures—err, service cuts—are projected to save just $2.1 million. The real savings are found the old fashioned way: $12.1 million is saved by reducing ongoing maintenance and eliminating all major equipment purchases.

Which takes us back to the crux of the matter. When the National Trust included California State Parks on our 2008 list of America’s 11 Most Endangered Historic Places, we highlighted years of chronic underfunding and deferred maintenance as the primary threat to the vast array of historic and cultural resources in California’s state park system. The Governor’s “budget solution” is just the latest chapter in a tragic saga of running the country’s best state parks system into the ground.

And it only gets worse. The final bullet in the Governor’s press release breezily notes that “to achieve the $22.2 million of ongoing future General Fund savings that was included in the 2009 Budget Act, the Administration can explore various solutions for inclusion in the January 2010 budget to generate ongoing budget savings while minimizing full and complete park closures.

How much more “fantastic news” can California’s state parks endure?

Anthony Veerkamp is the Senior Program Officer for the National Trust for Historic Preservation Western Office.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation works to save America's historic places. Join us today to help protect the places that matter to you.

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13 Responses

  1. Jerry Henderson

    September 28, 2009

    I agree. The headline should have been,”Gov decides to slowly strangle parks to death rather than stab them to death.” The result is the same. Back in the 70’s the regional manager of parks for So Cal, Jim Whitehead, had this slogan on all of the park trucks, “Parks Are Forever.” As much as I appreciated the sentiment, I knew it wasn’t true. The truth is that they exist only so long as the public demands it.

  2. Lisabet

    September 28, 2009

    I have nothing ladylike to say about the matter…or about the ‘governator’!!

  3. Did the ‘Governator’ really save CAs State Parks? - Prof. Boerner's Explorations

    September 28, 2009

    […] PreservationNation » Blog Archive » In California, “Fantastic” State Parks News Doesn’t Hold…  Source: […]

  4. Did the ‘Governator’ really save CAs State Parks? - Prof. Boerner's Explorations

    September 28, 2009

    […] PreservationNation » Blog Archive » In California, “Fantastic” State Parks News Doesn’t Hold…  Source: […]

  5. Jodi Summers

    September 28, 2009

    The issue with our state park funding is merely part of a larger picture. Many city and state historic properties sit in blighted condition.

    The state of California could generate revenue for the parks if they sold off some of their blighted legacy assets to individuals and corporations that would care for the properties. Monies raised from property sales and annual taxes could go toward maintaining our parks.

  6. Alan Stanley

    September 28, 2009

    Arnold, being Arnold. He’s a good actor, good with dialogue, but there is little going on in his brain There is nothing good for parks as long as we have one Republican serving in Sacramento.

  7. Thomas Harrell

    September 29, 2009

    Hey Alan… I am a Republican… and I say this is absolutely tragic. The parks have been strangled by lack of funds for so long, now they’re being closed as a political temper tantrum to show us taxpaying citizens that we need to turn over more of our paychecks to the spend-a-holics (from both parties) who are running this State and it’s resources into the ground. Send them all the pink slip next election. Vote no on incumbents.

  8. John Dobson

    September 29, 2009

    When are they going to turn the parks over to private industry or get corporate sponsors? The state could get rid of the burden of running our parks (into the ground). And let people who can run them responsibly and most likely profitably, take control. This is not the answer all, to the problems facing the parks system, but it could be a start. I know this will not fly in Sacramento, because it’s too easy, it lacks 600 pages of red tape and someone’s hand in the tax payers pockets.
    Give long term leases to people who care about the great outdoors and can keep our parks open.

  9. Greer Trice

    September 29, 2009

    I am a lifelong Republican, San Francisco native, outdoorsman, multi-generation Californian. The current governor and legislators of both parties have spent more than they have. Simple. Their own studies show commissioned at Sac State and UC Berkeley show two major items of interest.

    1. The ROI for State Park funding is 2.35 to 1.
    2. Communities local to State Parks receive an estimated $4.2 Billion in annual revenue related to the State Parks.

    With an ROI like that, and local revenues, what business sense does it make to cut anything? It makes no sense at all. Conservation and Sustainability are words in fashion, trendy, but they aren’t new. They are a tradition in California and in the West. Conservation of Natural Resources, preservation for coming generations, these are what we fight for. What we should not even have to raise our voices to accomplish. Here.

    In my opinion We the People need to remind our elected representatives of any party that they are empowered by us, only with the authority we’ve given them to represent, Us. From municipal, to State to the halls of Congress special interest rules. Not my interest, not yours. Even the Sierra Club doesn’t represent us, only themselves.

    Don’t whine, don’t complain, don’t shout.

    Talk to your neighbors. We all have them. Talk to your family, your friends, your co-workers. Things as simple and far reaching as a beach or a redwood forest trail bridge the political spectrum. You will be surprised who agrees with you.

    Then ACT. Write, email, call your elected representatives. Tell them you are concerned. Tell them you are worried. Tell them you do not like what is going on. Tell them you are un-happy with, THEM.

    Then VOTE.

    You have the final word in the matter.

  10. Kate Styrsky

    September 29, 2009

    Yes, it isn’t fantastic news. And yet, it isn’t the worst news ever– which would be the very real possibility of completely closing some parks. It’s a fairly workable compromise.
    Given the horrific state of California’s economy, compromise appears to be necessary on many fronts. Many causes are worthy, but they just can’t all have everything they’d like to have. Lovely as they are, the parks– at this time– may not have as urgent a call on funds as other services that constitute a daily need or an emergency need.

  11. Steven McIntire

    September 30, 2009

    Agreed with the last two posts.

    1) ROI on the parks is good. This is not the place to cut. Conservation issues aside, this whole brouhaha is an example of poor, extremely short sighted financial management and judgment by our elected officials.

    2) Partial closure is better than full closure. If something in fact has to give, this way we still have more of the parks open. Veerkamp has gone totally ‘glass half empty’ in this article.

    Further, why don’t we simply increase the park fees to the level of cost to run them? I did the math some months ago and the $14.2 mill shortfall divided by the number of annual visitors (85.2 million) comes to a $0.17 per visitor fee increase. This is obviously affordable, and a sound way to run the business of park management. Why has this simple, sensible solution never been put onto the table?

  12. Tressa Goeltz

    January 28, 2010

    Untrue. They were one of the first banks to completely repay their TARP funds despite the fact that they had bought both Bear Sterns and WAMU. If anything, they lightened the burden by paying for those banks liabilities so you didn’t have to.