Wednesday, 01 February 2023

Wiggins: Why closing parks isn

The proposed budget released by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Jan. 10 is a blueprint for a poorer quality of life in California, including his recommendation that we close nearly 20 percent of the state’s parks.


The park closures are part of his proposal for a 10-percent, across-the-board cut to all state departments.


While this may sound good as a sound bite, a 10-percent cut can decimate a department that has been fiscally responsible – state parks, to be specific – while some bloated, wasteful departments and programs may actually feel less of a pinch. This is no way to lead the state and no way prioritize California’s needs.


Let’s take a closer look at the parks department’s budget to prove my point.


Over the past three decades, the department has streamlined significantly and reduced its costs. To save money, department officials began deferring maintenance operations back in 1980s. This is a fancy way of saying that they stopped fixing or repairing roofs, restrooms, parking lots, etc.


It wouldn’t have taken Nostradamus to predict that the state would begin to rack up a huge backlog of maintenance projects, the cost of which now stands at about $1.2 billion.


Next, during the budget crisis of the early 1990s, the state completely restructured the parks department, a move which resulted in the elimination of 572 staff positions and 30 percent of the supervisory and management positions.


At the beginning of the current decade, the parks department received 55 percent of its budget from the state’s general fund. That amount has now been reduced by 35 percent. Furthermore, in 2003 an additional 90 positions were cut from the department’s budget.


Californians love their parks, and because of this fees have been able to compensate for much of the cuts that the department has been subjected to over the last decade. While fees are one way to help offset general fund costs, there is a limit – at some point costs become too high for Californians, as well as tourists from other states and countries, to continue visiting the parks.


When fees become high enough, they limit park access to a dwindling number of people able to afford them, thus denying access to many working families or people on limited incomes.


The numbers make it clear that the parks department has been running on a shoestring budget for over a decade now. It is because of the creative state employees who staff these facilities and the dedicated volunteers who love these parks that the state has been able to maintain them as well as they have. The governor’s proposal to close 48 state parks – including Clear Lake State Park and Anderson Marsh State Historic Park locally – is a slap to the face of these exemplary Californians.


So will closing 48 state parks have a significant impact on the state’s budget deficit? Let’s see: The deficit is projected to be around $14 billion for the next year and a half – closing the parks, we’re told, will lead to “savings” of about $13 million. In addition, closing the 48 parks means that the state will lose almost $4 million in revenues for these sites – reducing the supposed net cost benefit by quite a bit.


It’s the governor’s responsibility to lead, and leadership includes prioritizing the state’s needs. A 10-percent, across-the-board cut is no way to do this.


Nor should the deficit burden be shouldered by the parks department, which has continually streamlined and reduced costs over the years. As we strive to reach agreement on a state budget, it is my hope that the governor will reconsider this strategy.


Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) represents California’s large 2nd Senate District, which encompasses parts or all of six counties: Lake, Humboldt, Mendocino, Napa, Solano and Sonoma. Visit her Web site at http://dist02.casen.govoffice.com/.


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