Our recent story "Lawless future" described the Road Warrior-esque state of some of California's state parks. The state's budget problems meant that parks lost nearly $40 million this year. Short on staffing and law enforcement, many parks saw a surge in vandalism and illegal activity; nonetheless, the state is planning to shut down several parks altogether to save money and further reduce services at others.
Now, the Department of Parks and Recreation has issued a legal memorandum warning of the liabilities that can be expected from essentially abandoning these parks. As summarized by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility:
Unanticipated problems include both short and long-term liabilities, increased risk of wildfires, marijuana plantations on unmonitored parklands and “increased danger to the public” due to absence of lifeguards and other protective services. ...
In sobering terms, the memo outlines an array of legal and fiscal thickets from park closings, including:
* Legal liabilities from “dangerous conditions” in unstaffed parks, deteriorating facilities and risks to adjoining property from occurrences such as wildfires. The memo concludes “From a liability standpoint, closing the parks would probably not benefit State Parks and could in fact increase its liability for dangerous condition of public property;”
* Contractual obligations from grants, land donations, concessionaire contracts and earmarked federal and state funds may leave the parks legally obligated to keep operating despite a claim of funding shortfalls; and
* Public safety dangers and legal claims from nuisance uses and trespass. The memo predicts that state losses from theft, encroachments and other unauthorized uses “will only increase if State Parks cannot take immediate and effective action….”
The state says it will release the list of parks to be closed later this week. But if its own analysis is correct, the closures may not end up saving much money at all.