SACRAMENTO – Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday pledged to work with the California State Legislature to direct millions of dollars in state funds to keep parks open, fix serious park maintenance problems and match donor contributions.
He also thanked all Californians who have contributed time and money to save state parks.
It recently was discovered that the state Department of Parks and Recreation had $54 million hidden in its coffers, at the same time that dozens of parks around the state – including Anderson Marsh State Historic Park in Lower Lake – were slated for closure and donations were being solicited from the public to preserve parks.
In the case of some parks, like Anderson Marsh, nonprofit groups are negotiating with the state to take over operations in order to keep the parks open.
“Much remains to be done to keep our parks open,” said Brown. “The disclosure that the Parks Department had millions in additional revenues is mixed – it’s better to have more money than less, but it’s totally unacceptable for parks personnel to squirrel away public funds. I extend my deepest appreciation for the donors who have come to the aid of our parks in this time of need. I ask for their patience as we take all necessary steps to make sure this never happens again.”
Specifically, Gov. Brown called for the $20 million from the State Parks and Recreation Fund (SPRF) to be used to make critically needed maintenance fixes to keep parks from closing – for example, fixing water and waste treatment facilities that, if left as-is, will cause park closures, and to establish a matching fund for contributions, so that donors know every dollar they give will go further.
The State Parks and Recreation Fund is one-time funding that can only be used for one-time costs.
The governor also is seeking a $10 million appropriation from Proposition 84 funds for immediate maintenance projects.
“We are grateful for our generous, committed donors. I can’t thank them enough,” said California Natural Resources Agency Secretary John Laird. “The good news is we will have more to spend on parks this year. The bad news is the problem is much bigger than that. State Parks will still have over $1 billion in deferred maintenance and ongoing costs.”
State Sen. Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) – whose district includes Lake County – said she was pleased with the news that Brown committed to using $20 million to keep parks open and to reopen parks that have been partially closed.
Evans said that, in addition to keeping parks open, the state must address the serious backlog of maintenance that has accumulated at parks. She said she will be working with the governor on the Sustainable Parks Plan that she and Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) proposed earlier this year.
“Californians love their parks and their commitment is unwavering,” Evans said. “One of the positive things to come out of this crisis is the overwhelming response of Californians in support of their state parks. I’m committed to the recovery and sustainability of our entire state park system and am pleased that the governor is as well.”
To ensure more sound and accountable financial reporting, the Department of Finance is requiring all departments to follow new procedures to reconcile and confirm balances between the Controller’s Office and the governor’s budget.
In addition to implementing these new procedures, the Department of Finance’s Office of State Audits and Evaluations is conducting a thorough audit of all parks fiscal actions.
Investigations into the parks funds are ongoing, according to the Governor’s Office.
On July 20, the California Natural Resources Agency announced that the Parks Department had not reported $20 million in the State Parks and Recreation Fund, and $34 million in the Off-Highway Vehicle Fund, to the Department of Finance.
The Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation at the request of Gov. Brown, who ordered a full Parks Department audit by the Department of Finance.
The governor also accepted the resignation of then-Parks Director Ruth Coleman, appointed a new acting interim director and directed the dismissal of three senior parks employees.
Of the $54 million total, $20 million is eligible for appropriation by the Legislature for management, protection, planning and acquisition.