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Report: Raise Entrance Fees to Keep More State Parks Open


Many California parks would not have to close, if the state charged entrance fees and transferred ownership of some parks to local governments, non-profits, and even some for-profit corporations, according to a report issued by the Legislative Analyst's Office Friday.

As many as 70 state parks are slated to close by July, after Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature agreed last year to cut $22 million from the Department of Parks and Recreation's budget.

According to the report, the state could generate revenues "in the low millions" by charging entrance fees instead of parking fees at more parks and increasing the dollar amounts at those that already charge. Currently, the majority of park visitors do not pay entrance fees.

California could also transfer ownership from some state parks, especially those that "do not have unique or historical components of broad state interest," to non-profits or local governments. But "it is uncertain if a significant number of cities and counties would be interested in taking ownership of a state park," given the limited financial resources of many local governments, the report said.

The National Park Service signed a cooperative management agreement last year that saved two state parks in Marin County — Samuel P. Taylor and Tomales Bay State Park — until at least 2013.  

In January, the town of Benicia offered to maintain and manage Benicia State Recreation Area in exchange for $80,000, half of the park's annual operational costs. A state park spokesman was critical of the request for cash, maintaining that the parks needed to find organizations able to foot the whole bill. 

The state could also transfer some parks to corporations, which could result in "operational savings — potentially in the low tens of millions of dollars annually," according to the report.

The parks department could also save money by "eliminating the use of peace officers for certain park tasks (such as providing information to visitors and leading school groups on park tours)," the analysts suggest.

Finally, the analysts recommend expanding the use of concessions agreements with restaurants, caterers, fee collection servicers, and parking management companies, which could generate an additional $10 million.

"We attempt to find a balance between the need to achieve budgetary savings or increase park revenues and the goal of preserving public access to the parks," the report's authors wrote. "While we recognize that some parks may need to be closed in the short run, we believe that our recommendations would reduce the number of parks that would need to be closed in the long run."

“If we had the money to operate the park we would keep it open ourselves,” said State Parks Department Spokesman Roy Stearns. “The whole goal here is to find partners who can provide the funding to keep the parks open.” 

Source: The Bay Citizen (http://s.tt/15j9j)

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