In July, after $14.2 million was cut from the California State Parks' operating budget, it looked like up to 100 parks might have to close to make ends meet. Park supporters have thus spent the last few months anxiously speculating about which parks would fall to Governor Schwarzenegger's death panels. But today they got a reprieve.
“Working closely with my Departments of Finance and Parks and Recreation, we have successfully found a way to avoid closing parks this year,” said the governor. He has not, however, found any new funds. A memo released by the state's Department of Parks and Recreation and the Department of Finance made it clear that some people would lose their jobs, some parks would lose their campgrounds, and no one better even think about buying any new power tools.
"In the current fiscal year, Parks can achieve one-time budget savings in the following manner," reads a memo from the California Department of Parks and Recreation Director Ruth Coleman and Ana Matosantos, chief deputy director of the Department of Finance. First cut on the list is "Maintenance and Equipment," instructing park managers to "reduce ongoing maintenance for the remainder of 2009-10 and eliminate all major equipment purchases" to save $12.1 million. Other adjustments include "reducing hours and/or days of operation at most State Park units, reducing expenditures on seasonal staff [and] reducing staffing and operations at Headquarters."
The announcement comes shortly after Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) leaked a memo [pdf] exploring the possible legal consequences of closing parks (see "Lawless Future Indeed" on this very blog), including lawsuits brought by citizens and nonprofits against the state for reneging on habitat and historic preservation commitments. The memo also talked about the potential danger to the public of closing parks that can't be cordoned off, as discussed here in High Country News. "Liability for a dangerous condition of public property is not dependent on whether the users are invitees or trespassers," reads the memo. "So State Parks has a duty to protect even those who may be in the park illegally from dangerous conditions." Like, uh, automatic weapon target practice.
There's just one problem about California's park plan -- actually, there are several, but here's at least one: The PEER-leaked memo warns not just about closing parks but also understaffing them. A tourist who disappears in a rip current at a state beach manned by too few lifeguards, or a paintballer who falls out of tree where there are no rangers, could still cost the state big money in the long run. It might have made more good sense to pay seasonal salaries than settle lawsuits later. But few of California's recent economic policies these days, seem to have much basis in good sense.