Closing California’s state parks to help balance the financially strapped state’s budget would do little to help the $24 billion shortfall and could harm the privately owned RV parks and campgrounds in the Golden State.
So says the California Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds (CalARVC) which is lobbying state legislators to find a compromise to the closures, according to Debbie Sipe, CalARVC executive director.
CalARVC board members met late last week and discussed the state’s financial crisis. While it took no formal vote on the budget crisis, the sentiment was “we are opposed to the closures,” she said.
“Even though it could be a boom to many of our members, we are worried about the potential backlash” to the 370 CalARVC member parks, she said.
If state parks are closed, the public might wrongly assume that private parks are closed too, she said.
And from a service point of view, “We don’t think we could absorb the full influx of campers out there,” she added.
CalARVC member parks offer approximately 44,000 campsites, but that would fall short of the camping demand if most of the state’s 279 state parks and campgrounds were closed, she said.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s latest proposal to tackle the state’s $24.3 billion shortfall includes the elimination of all general fund contributions to California’s 279 parks within two years.
It is a nightmare scenario that would mean the public could be barred from visiting 223 parks – that’s 80% of the state-owned parks, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
“That’s just horrendous,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation. “It could impact these environmental and cultural resources for decades and decades.”
The proposal already has been subject to intense lobbying in the Legislature. Between now and July 1, when the fiscal year starts, the state parks would be asked to cut $70 million of the $150 million the park system receives from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2009-10. The remainder would be cut out in the 2010-11 budget.
Eliminating state contributions, most of which go toward paying staff, would mean maintenance workers, office technicians, park superintendents, landscapers, rangers, environmental scientists, administrative officers and bookkeepers would have to be laid off. Camping, boating and day use fees would also have to be raised, said Roy Stearns, the parks spokesman.
CalARVC members are working with the California Travel Industry Association in lobbying efforts to swing state legislators to some type of compromise that would keep parks open, at least part time, Sipe said.
Goldstein’s group is heading up the lobbying effort.
The lobbying effort already has brought out some 110 state park “advocates” to a budget hearing last week, Sipe noted. Sixty of them testified at the hearing.
In addition, 36,000 people have sent 100,000 letters and e-mails to the governor and state legislature in support of keeping parks open.
Lobbyists are asking the director of state parks to put together a task force to recommend a compromise, Sipe said.
“No matter what,” Sipe sid, “even if state parks stay open, they’ll get a good hatchet job on their budgets.”
The task force “needs to look at creative ways to keep state parks open,” she said, perhaps closing for a few days in mid-week and cutting back on winter hours.
“The pressure to get this done is very intense,” Sipe stressed, as the state has no budget past June 30 and begins to run out of money on that date.
Drastic cuts are necessary, the governor said, because of the slipping economy, declining revenues and a deficit that deepened after voters rejected five budget measures designed to help close the gap. Goldstein argued, however, that the savings derived from cutting the parks out of the budget would amount to 0.26% of the $24.3 billion budget gap.
“It’s a very, very tiny portion of the financial need, but the impacts would be draconian to say the least,” Goldstein said. “Not only is this bad for people who are relying on state parks more than they ever have for recreation and vacation, but it is also bad for the communities surrounding these parks.”
Stearns said 79.6 million people visited state parks last year. A huge number of reservations for campgrounds have already been made throughout the summer and into November, he said. Analysts estimate park visitors spend roughly $2.6 billion a year in and around the parks.
Goldstein said for every dollar spent, the state parks generate $2.35 in tax revenue from economic activity in the local communities surrounding the parks. That means the state could potentially see a reduction in revenue by closing the parks.
That’s not even counting the loss of day-use fees and the cost of patrolling the closed parks to make sure arsonists, vandals, transients, hunters and marijuana growers don’t move in, she said.