Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration made a splash by proposing to close 220 of the 278 state parks -- plans that were deep-sixed when Schwarzenegger realized he'd go down in history as the first governor to preside over the closing of public lands. Now Gov. Jerry Brown is proposing to close up to 70 parks in a budget-cutting plan, including popular trails and beaches in Santa Clara, Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties.
This time the hypocrisy of the plan is transparent, however. It's part of a pattern designed to shock voters into seeing that the state needs more revenue.
Some of the targeted parks can't legally be closed. And the savings from the rest would be lost in the deterioration of public property, the damage to rural economies that rely on tourism and the cost of policing areas that we know people will continue to use. Does anyone really think hikers and climbers will stay out of Castle Rock State Park just because it's not officially open? This is clearly a ploy to shock voters.
California needs a plan to sustain its parks for public use -- including a dedicated funding source. These lands and facilities need to be preserved for all time and accessible to the taxpayers who own them.
Reporting by the Mercury News' Paul Rogers in recent weeks revealed the legal barriers to closing a state park. Eleven of the doomed parks are beaches, which the law requires to be open to the public. Sixteen, with only a few overlaps,
These are long standing and sensible requirements. Wouldn't we be outraged if our federal tax dollars were used to help Arizona buy land in one of its spectacular landscapes, only to find that we can't go see it? As to beaches -- California's pledge that all beaches must be public, regardless of who owns the adjacent land, is a hallmark of the state's stewardship of the spectacular coastline that drives much of the tourist industry.
A ballot proposition last fall would have solved the park funding problem by adding $18 to drivers license fees, a strategy other states use successfully. The initiative failed -- in part because it was a reach in a horrendous economy and in part because its sponsors ran a terrible campaign. Unlike some notoriously bureaucratic state agencies, the parks department has undergone serious streamlining and is efficiently run. That message, among others, did not come through.
Brown's proposal for mass closures isn't supposed to go into effect for a year, so there's time to change course. We suspect that was by design, with the hope that a better solution could be found.
Former parks director Donald Murphy thinks a special commission should be created to make a long-range plan for parks. But ad hoc groups' recommendations often come to naught. A better bet might be for environmental groups to join forces and find champions in the Legislature from both houses -- and from both parties. There's nothing partisan about a life-affirming day at the beach or walk in the redwoods.