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« Which parks will live and which will die | Main | Getting Through to Your California Politicians »

My Take on State Parks Closures

Really, I get it that we are in a horrific economic crisis. I understand that the State Parks are not, just by virtue of being my pet program, immune. I expected bad news, and was resigned to deep and painful cuts. However, I was not prepared for the proposal to just delete the State Parks from the budget. That is just insane.

The first argument against it is, of course, that the State has taken on a sacred trust to preserve these resources for future generations--but that argument, it would appear, can be simply brushed aside by saying "Hard times mean hard choices".

Hard times do mean hard choices, but they shouldn't lead to dumb choices.

The first argument for the dumbness of a blanket shut down is that the Parks budget makes up .01% of the State Budget. If cutting them from the budget resulted in a net savings (which is not really the case) it would still inflict massive harm without budging the deficit to any noticeable degree.

The second argument is the fact that State Parks are economic engines. Many jobs, over and above those of State employees, are generated by State Parks in the retail, hospitality, food service and transportation industry, and the closure of these parks will result in further job losses which will lead to a further decline in the tax base and a further increase in the state deficit. According the the State Parks, for every one dollar they get from the General Fund, the sales from businesses that depend on visitor spending send back $2.35 to the General Fund. So, they get about $150 million from the General Fund, and claim that the business taxes paid send back about $350 million. Even if they are exaggerating their contribution by an order of 100%, cutting them still ranks as a money-losing decision.

The next bit of dumbness is the plain fact that parks do not simply go away when you close them. They are still there: wildernesses or fragile historical buildings in the midst of urban or suburban areas. Park Rangers do more than lead nature walks. They are sworn, trained peace officers and their beat is the State Parks property. With all of them fired, we will have a dangerous combination of vast, uncontrolled wild land and large abandoned urban properties with ambiguous jurisdiction. The State of California does not have a reserve of law enforcement officers to take their places, and local governments aren't likely to have additional resources to fill the gap.

The larger of the abandoned parks will become camps for the homeless (a population the California government is doing its best to swell), a party zone for young people, a great spot for illegal dumping, a safe refuge for pot farms and a haven for any sort of questionable or illegal activity. They will become ungoverned territories in our midst. This will compromise the ecosystems and pose a serious threat of both crime and wildfires to the neighboring communities for which they used to be an economic benefit.

The urban parks and historic sites will become large abandoned buildings, often surrounded by open land and concealed from the eyes of law enforcement. They will be subject to many of the issues of the wilderness parks, with a particular probability of becoming a focal point for crack houses and gang activity.

As these problems reach proportions which cannot be ignored, the State will have to spend more money to build a completely new force to police the properties than it would have to just keep the rangers on.

The only other alternative, and I fear that may be the hidden agenda of many of the politicians involved, will be to sell the parklands to developers, energy companies and loggers. However, that too is not likely to turn a timely profit for the State, as the litigation that such a move would generate would keep the land sales locked up for years and cost the State millions of dollars in lawyers' fees.

This move is more short sighted and destructive than words can express, but it is also just bad economic policy. It will have unintended consequences that will deepen the recession and further erode our tax base and lead to the need for massive expenditures down the road.

This is, of course, not just a temporary decision. You can't fire an entire trained and experienced cadre of thousands of people, and just call them back when times are better. You also can't abandon park facilities and fragile historic structures for several years and then just open them up again like nothing happened. This will gut the State Parks for decades to come, even if funding is later restored.

I understand that the Parks will have to take a huge hit in these hard times proportional to the hit the rest of the government is taking, but that hit needs to be managed intelligently, with an eye towards preserving the benefit to the economy and the ability to bounce back when the economy recovers. That isn't what is being proposed by the Governor and his idiotic allies in Sacramento.

This leads me to my conclusion: the State of California cannot be trusted with our precious natural resources. If our politicians are stupid enough to float this idea, even as a bargaining chip, they are not capable of shouldering the responsibility the guardianship of our legacy involves.

The only hope I can see for future generations is for us to figure out some way of moving these properties out of the hands of the State and into more stable and responsible parties--perhaps some combination of the National Parks, Non-Profit conservancies and local municipalities. I don't know how such a transfer would be effected, but it would have to be gradual and careful, and not done in the heat of a crisis

It is pretty clear though that the Governor and the Legislature are not worthy of this trust.

Walter Nelson


There is a petition to save California State Parks -

Enjoy the State Parks - they are what make California Special.