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.