Monday, March 3, 2008

The Fourth Cut is the Deepest

Part 1 in a series about the proposed closure of La Purisima State Historic Park.


SOURCE: La Purisima Mission (Lompoc, Santa Barbara Co., California).
Photographed by Elizabeth O'Neal, March 1, 2008.

When California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his proposed 2008-2009 budget back on January 10, 2008, a shockwave went through the typically quiet communities of the Central Coast.

Among the Governor’s proposed cuts/reductions is the closure of 48 state parks.

Included in this list is our own La Purisima Mission State Historic Park in Lompoc.


Do the Math

Specifically, the Governor is seeking a 10 percent, across-the-board reduction among all state agencies in order to balance the $141 billion spending budget and stop the bleeding of the current $14 billion deficit.

Slated for closure are 17 state parks, 17 state historic parks and museums, 3 state beaches, 9 state recreation areas, and 2 state reserves. Statistically, this will close roughly 1 of every 5 parks currently operated by the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation. The closures are expected to be completed by June 2009.

According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation Budget Fact Sheet dated January 14, 2008, this involves:

A total reduction of $17 million including an 8.9%, $13.3 million reduction to our General Fund operating budget and $3.7 million in lost revenue, distributed as follows:.
  • $4.4 million from state park headquarters units other than Park Operations and 12 positions. (This represents more than 25% of the total reduction).
  • $2.0 million and 11 positions from headquarters units of Park Operations.
  • $10.6 million (including $6.9 million General Fund and $3.7 million in lost revenue) and 113 positions from the field units of the state park system.
The above reductions involve civil service procedures mandated by law that would likely not be fully implemented until the close of the 2008/09 fiscal year.

To achieve a reduction of this magnitude, on top of significant past reductions, the Department must reduce both its permanent and seasonal workforce, because salaries are the largest part of the budget.

48 park units will be closed or partially closed and placed in caretaker status and will not be open to the public. This will allow us to eliminate 136 permanent positions. However, the Department has a number of vacancies and hopes to use those vacancies to lay off the least number of personnel, but some employees may have to move.

In addition, funding for approximately 50% or 100,000 hours of seasonal work would be eliminated. That means approximately half the seasonal workers needed could be hired,to include lifeguards, park aides and others who provide public protection at state beaches and work to clean restrooms and other facilities at parks and campgrounds. Beachgoers will swim at their own risk at many more beaches and routine maintenance of our facilities will be deferred.

Elimination of public access at the 48 parks will result in a revenue loss of approximately $3.7 million to the State Parks and Recreation Fund (SPRF).

The two together, the $13.3 GF reduction and the $3.7 million loss in SPRF revenue, would result in a projected total reduction of $17.0 million in funding for the operation and maintenance of the state park system.

The Weakest Links

How were the lucky 48 selected? The criteria were three-fold:
  1. Can the park be closed to the public? In other words, can people really be kept out if the park is closed, or will they find another way in?
  2. How many people use the park? Will anyone will miss it when it's gone
  3. The Bottom Line: How much revenue does it bring in?
In addition to La Purisima Mission State Historic Park, these weak links include some very famous, historic California places:

Sutter's Fort State Historic Park in Sacramento, the oldest restored fort in the United States;
Del Norte Redwoods State Park in Crescent City, containing approximately 50% old growth coast redwood;
San Simeon State Park, one of the oldest units of the California State Parks System; and
Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades, ironically rededicated by Gov. Schwarzenegger in March, 2006.

However, as the California Department of Parks and Recreation puts it, "Our proposed park closures and service reductions reflect a long-term, accumulated decline in funding for State Parks, a decline which began long before this administration came to office."

In other words, blame it on the previous administrations because it's not their fault.

Plus, they're just trying to be fair. The "methodology" being used will spread the pain reductions fairly across the state, leaving no region "singled-out or spared." Misery does love company, doesn't it?

So, let us not forget that when these 48 parks are closed, 230 parks, or 83% of the park system, will still remain open.

I suppose that's good news, right? I mean, if the doctor told me that only 83% of my heart was working, I could still live a full life. How much could I possibly miss that other 17%?


Oh No, Not Again

During the fiscal crisis of the 1980’s, a 25-year tradition of “putting off until tomorrow” was begun. This included the deferral of park maintenance such as repairing of bathrooms, roofs, roads, fences, and trails. Since then, the list of deferred maintenance has grown to a whopping $1.2 billion backlog, with the current annual shortfall hovering at around the $117 million mark.

It’s hard to play catch-up to that amount of cash.

The early 1990’s saw California hit another budget bump, which resulted in yet another reduction in State Parks' funding. In fact, La Purisima Mission was targeted for closure in 1992; however, public outcry and a successful protest campaign managed to persuade the powers-that-be to have a change of heart.

From 2001 to 2007, another $10.5 million (net) was chopped out of the State Parks’ budget. Park usage fees were increased to try to offset the loss of revenue, but fee increases can only go so far. At some point, the fees will get high enough to cause people to stop coming to the parks. Apparently, the parks are nearing that point now.

According to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, closing these parks and eliminating jobs will allow them to “consolidate resources” in order to keep the remaining parks open.


Silver Lining?

On the bright side, however, the Governor’s budget proposes an additional $3 million to the General Fund for 28 park ranger positions “to improve detection and prevention of fires in fire prone areas of state parks.” This comes in the wake of the devastating wildfires of October 2007.

NEXT:

Part 2: Back to 4th Grade – A Little History of La Purisima Mission
Part 3: Sending Out an S.O.S. (How You Can Help)

____________________

SOURCES:

2008-2009 Governor's Proposed Budget
California Department of Parks and Recreation Fact Sheet (01/14/08)
Map of Proposed Park Closures


Copyright © 2008 by Elizabeth O'Neal

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1 comment:

Thomas MacEntee said...

Great post Elizabeth - I still read the SF Chronicle online each morning so I've been looped into the California State Park cutbacks. I just wish state and local governments would better focus their priorities such as cutting waste, the number of govt jobs and making govt work for the people, and not serve as some jobs program for people with marginal skills and political connections.

At least you aren't being hit with the largest sales tax in the country. Cook County here in Chicago just approved an increase to 10.25% which takes effect in November. I'll be buying more items online and with free shipping after that.