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State parks fund scandal leads to buyer's remorse for donors

August 2, 2012 | 11:22 am

Park donors

A few months ago, donors gathered at Henry W. Coe State Park near San Jose to hand Ruth Coleman, then the state parks director, with a giant check to keep the park open.

Now Coleman has resigned in the wake of revelations that the parks department had a $54 million hidden surplus even though it was soliciting private donations to prevent 70 natural and historic sites from closing because of budget cuts.

The Coe Park donors are among several groups of supporters furious that they forked over their own money to keep parks open when the state had enough money on its own. Some local governments have already asked the state for their money back. The full story, written with Steve Chawkins, ran in Thursday's Los Angeles Times.

Coleman has denied knowing about the surplus, but that hasn't satisfied some park supporters.

"If she did know, shame on her," said Robert Patrie, who worked to keep Coe Park open. "If she didn't know, shame on her. It's hard to be anything else than very, very disappointed."

Caryl Hart, chairwoman of the State Park and Recreation Commission, noted that the extra money found in two different accounts won't fix parks' financial problems. There's still a $1.3-billion backlog in unfinished maintenance work, state officials say.

"Parks are worse off because now it's going to be more difficult to raise money," Hart said.

ALSO:

California parks department finds $54-million surplus

Millions of dollars may lie dormant in California's special funds

Much of hidden state park cash was in controversial off-road fund

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: Donors present Ruth Coleman, then-state parks director (second from right), with a symbolic $279,000 check in May to help keep Coe Park open. Credit: Ron Fischler / Coe Park Preservation Fund

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