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State Plans to Close Parks — Again

Seventeen parks in the Bay Area set to close unless voters approve tax extensions

Skeptical Californians may be forgiven for wondering whether the state government is crying wolf when it comes to closing state parks. Yet it looks more likely this year that the state will carry out its plans.

On Friday, the Brown administration announced that it will close 70 parks — 25 percent of the state's 278 parks. Of those, 17 are in the Bay Area.

“Closing state parks is not a task that gives anyone joy, but we are experiencing turbulent times that necessitate deep – almost unthinkable – cuts to public services," Gov. Jerry Brown said in a statement his office released late Friday afternoon. "I will work hard in the coming weeks to reach an agreement that will allow us to avoid deeper and more disruptive reductions."

The Brown administration indicated that cuts could be averted if the governor can persuade four Republican lawmakers to put tax extensions on the ballot — and voters pass them. "Hopefully, Republicans in the legislature will agree to allow California voters to decide whether we extend currently existing taxes or make deeper cuts to our parks," said John Laird, the state's resources secretary, in a statement. 

Even if Republican lawmakers did agree to such a vote, it's may not make it to the ballot before the closures begin. The state's powerful teacher's unions, among others, have asked the Governor to persuade lawmakers to bypass voters and enact tax extensions themselves.

Brown isn't the first governor to threaten to close parks. In January 2008, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing 48 state parks. It didn’t happen. In 2009, he threatened to close as many as 220 state parks. That didn’t happen either.

While no state parks were closed, by 2010, some 150 parks had reduced their hours or cut services owing to the state’s budget crisis, according to the California State Parks Foundation.

This time around, it is more likely that the parks will close, according to Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the foundation. “This [list] is in response to a budget that’s actually been passed and signed by a governor,” she explained. In March, the Legislature approved cutting the parks budget by $11 million this year and $22 million next year.

And the list released today could get even longer, Goldstein said, since the Governor is slated to release his revised budget proposal on Monday. “We believe that there are going to be additional cuts to many state departments in the 'May Revise,'” she said. “If there is an additional cut to state parks, this 70 won’t be all there is. This could be the baseline. It could get worse than this.”

The closures will be phased in starting this fall, but are now scheduled to be completed by July 1, 2012. Some 250 jobs will be eliminated. 

“We regret closing any park,” said Ruth Coleman, director of California State Parks, in a statement. “but with the proposed budget reductions over the next two years, we can no longer afford to operate all the parks within the system.”

In the Bay Area, the list includes popular parks like Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin, a major attraction on the way to Point Reyes; Henry W. Coe State Park, the state’s second largest park and the largest in Northern California; and Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma, a memorial to one of the state’s most enduring writers, who covered the aftermath of the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco, but apparently could not weather the state’s 2011 budget crisis.

If it’s any consolation to park and beach-goers, this summer will look pretty much like last summer, since the closures aren’t slated to begin until the fall. And some of the closures may be averted by public-private partnerships between the state, foundations and other organizations.

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