PolitiCal

On politics in the Golden State

Category: State Parks

Parks department audit finds two decades of accounting discrepancies

McGrath beach park

The California parks department had accounting problems for longer than previously revealed, according to an audit from Gov. Jerry Brown's Department of Finance.

The audit report found that department officials were inaccurately reporting the balances held in two accounts since 1993. That's about a decade longer than finance officials identified this summer, when it was revealed that parks had a hidden surplus of $54 million in two accounts.

The controller's office, which signs the state's checks, was getting correct information, but the Department of Finance, which puts together the state budget, was not. Finance officials were not comparing the two sets of data until this year.

Parks officials were "intentionally under-reporting fund balances to Finance for development of the governor’s budget," the audit said. The audit did not place blame for the discrepancy or explain why the funds were being inaccurately reported.

Finance officials said the audit did not find any additional hidden money in the two accounts. In a written response to the audit, parks officials said they have increased internal oversight of their budget.

The audit is the second review this week to find accounting problems in the department. On Tuesday, the controller's office said payroll policies weren't being followed and some employees may have been getting paid more than they should.

Two more reviews are still underway, one from the state auditor and one from the attorney general's office.

ALSO:

California parks department finds $54-million surplus

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Discovery of California parks fund provokes backlash from donors

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: Jack Baffa, 4, plays at McGrath State Beach near Oxnard, one of the parks that had been threatened with closure before a hidden parks department surplus was discovered. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown approves two-year moratorium on state park closures

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that puts a two-year moratorium on closing state parks in California and allocates $30 million in recently discovered surplus funds to help them continue operation

Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill Tuesday that puts a two-year moratorium on closing state parks in California and allocates $30 million in recently discovered surplus funds to help them continue operation.

The legislation by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) was in response to the discovery this summer that former parks officials concealed about $54 million in unspent funds even as the state was proposing the closure of parks because of a budget shortfall.

"Rogue bureaucrats lied to all of us," Blumenfield said in a statement Tuesday. "The governor acted swiftly and appropriately to remove them. Now, after signing this bill, we can move forward."

AB 1478 provides $10 million to match private donations made in recent months to keep specific parks open, another $10 million to other parks at risk of closure, and a like amount to address maintenance needs at some parks that threaten to force their shuttering.

The measure also provides more money to the state Park and Recreation Commission to oversee management of the Parks and Recreation Department so that there are no more financial shenanigans.

The bill was one of 33 signed by the governor Tuesday that involve environmental issues, including a measure by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) to require 60% of the water used by new car washes to be recycled.

"Car washes are tremendous users of water, and the use of crystal clear water fit for drinking is not necessary," Gatto said in explaining AB 2230.

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown at a speech last year. Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times

California lawmakers probe parks department, special funds

One day after California lawmakers asked for an independent audit of the parks department, the Assembly Budget Committee is set to meet to examine how the state accounts for more than 500 "special" funds

One day after California lawmakers asked for an independent audit of the parks department, the Assembly Budget Committee is set to meet Thursday to examine how the state accounts for more than 500 "special" funds.

These special funds, which are created to help pay for specific programs and make use of taxes and fees, are a more obscure area of the state budget but have received increasing scrutiny in the last month, starting when officials found a $54-million hidden surplus stashed in two accounts at the parks department.

Officials in Gov. Jerry Brown's administration said their ensuing review of the special funds did not find any similar situations in which money was hidden. However, it did find $232.6 million that went unreported to lawmakers and administration officials while they were hashing out the state budget. Officials blamed errors, including typos, miscalculations and omissions. 

Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), the committee’s chairman, said Thursday's hearing will "separate fact from fiction" and examine if the money could have been used in the budget if lawmakers knew about it.

The Senate is scheduled to hold its own hearing next week.

On Wednesday, lawmakers told the state auditor to prioritize a probe into the parks department in hopes of getting more information by January, when they'll start to discuss the next state budget. The full story on the audit ran in Thursday's Los Angeles Times.

"It's a victory for transparency in state government," said Assemblywoman Beth Gaines (R-Rocklin), part of a bipartisan group of lawmakers who had pushed for the audit.

ALSO:

California finds $119 million more in untapped funds

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

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

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: Assembly Budget Committee Chairman Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills), left, listens to Senate Budget Committee Chairman Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) question an administration official during a Capitol hearing last year. Credit: Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press

State parks to remain open despite budget cuts, officials say

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration said most state parks will remain open this summer even though the governor decided to spend $31 million less on parks than Democratic lawmakers wanted

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration said Thursday that most state parks will remain open this summer even though the governor decided to spend $31 million less on parks than Democratic lawmakers wanted.

Only five parks -- Benicia State Recreation Area, the California Mining and Mineral Museum, Gray Whale Cove State Beach, Providence Mountains State Recreation Area and Zmudowski State Beach -- are expected to close next week because private donors or other government agencies haven't stepped forward to help save them.

Officials confirmed that 40 parks will stay open thanks to a patchwork of funding and operating agreements. An additional 25 parks will keep operating as more agreements are finalized.

A total of 70 parks were originally targeted for closure because of California’s yawning budget deficit. Natural Resources Secretary John Laird lauded the public for stepping up to help parks and, because the funding agreements are often short-term, said the administration was looking at how to structure a "sustainable parks department for generations to come."

Officials said in a conference call Thursday that the budget includes $13 million in bond money to help generate more revenue and keep nearly all of the public lands that were on the closure list open at least through summer.

"It will give us a path to keep most, if not all, state parks open," Laird said. "The Legislature gave us breathing room."

Ruth Coleman, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, said the bond money would help pay for automated pay machines in the parks and transition some parks from diesel to solar power. She also said officials were working with counties to post signs that encourage visitors to enter the parks and pay instead of parking outside.

In addition, the parks department is exploring adding more cabins and "alternative camping options" to generate additional revenue, she said.

The state's natural and historical sites will be getting much less money than legislative Democrats had allocated in the budget because Brown used his line-item veto to eliminate $31 million from parks. The governor's finance director, Ana Matosantos, said the spending was vetoed because it would have shifted money away from off-road vehicle areas and energy programs.

Parks could face more cuts if Brown's plan to raise taxes temporarily is voted down in November.

"If temporary taxes do not pass in November," Laird said, "I'm sure everybody throughout state government will have to go back and look at their own state budgets and everything will be back on the table."

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Legislature sends bills finalizing budget to Gov. Jerry Brown

-- Michael J. Mishak and Chris Megerian in Sacramento

twitter.com/mjmishak

twitter.com/chrismegerian

Photo: China Camp visitor Remy Wilson walks past one of the old shrimping boats on display. Credit: Brant Ward / San Francisco Chronicle

Republicans fail in rare attempt to override governor's veto

 

California Republican lawmakers failed Thursday to engineer the first override of a gubernatorial veto in three decades

Republican state lawmakers failed Thursday to engineer the first override of a gubernatorial veto in three decades, while some Democrats who opposed the action said they remain open to using the power in the future.

The state Senate's 13-22 party-line vote fell far short of the two-thirds tally necessary to override Gov. Jerry Brown's veto of a measure that would make it easier for cities and counties to temporarily take over the operation of state parks targeted for closure because of the California's budget shortfall.

Sen. Sam Blakeslee (R-San Luis Obispo) said he called for an override because he does not think Brown is willing to work with lawmakers on a compromise to keep parks open. He accused the governor of "circumventing" the Legislature and going to voters with a proposed tax increase.

"This is an opportunity for us to potentially keep some state parks open that would otherwise close," Blakeslee told his colleagues about SB 356.

Brown vetoed the measure in October, saying it was unnecessary because state officials are already talking to local governments about operating some parks.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) noted the last veto successful override occurred during Brown's first stint as governor. He referred to 1979 overrides on two measures, dealing with state employees and insurance.

"This has not happened in over a generation," he said, noting that he opposed Blakeslee's effort but that if the Legislature never uses its override authority "we lose some of our power.''

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) said an override should only be considered on an issue of "great importance" and only when he and the Republican Senate leader agree that it is necessary.

"This isn't the bill," Steinberg said. "This isn't the time."

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-- Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento

Photo: Gov. Jerry Brown redelivers his State of the State address to an audience in Los Angeles on Wednesday. Credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

Gov. Jerry Brown takes jab at GOP senator in veto of parks bill

Gov. Jerry Brown on Wednesday vetoed a bill aimed at easing public input over the closure of state parks and took a swipe at its Republican author in the process.

With budget cuts forcing some California state parks to close, Sen. Tom Harman (R-Huntington Beach) introduced a bill requiring the state to post details of closures on a website and respond to any proposals by the private sector or nonprofit groups for partnerships to keep them open.

Brown said the proposal in SB 386 is a good idea but one that can be put in place without a change in state law.

"What parks do need is sufficient funding to stay open -- something I feel compelled to note the author and his colleagues refused to let the people vote on," Brown wrote in his veto message, referring to Republican opposition to putting an extension of higher taxes on the ballot.

-- Patrick McGreevy

 

Voters reject Prop. 21, vehicle fees for state parks

State_parks_prop21
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger rode to power seven years ago pledging to cut the state's vehicle registration fees, which he pejoratively dubbed the "car tax." Tonight, California voters rejected a measure that would have raised those fees by $18 a year to provide funding to state parks, according to early vote tallies.

California parks have been hit hard by recent budget cuts. Environmentalists have tried for years to pass a vehicle license fee hike to pay for park revenues, but those plans have been rejected by state lawmakers. This year, they went to the voters. Prop. 21 would have generated an estimated $500 million annually in increased licensing fees. The measure was expected to provide more than $250 million annually in additional revenue for state parks and wildlife conservation.

-- Anthony York

Photo credit: Michael Robinson Chavez / Los Angeles Times

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Barbara Boxer claims victory as Carly Fiorina refuses to concede

Prop. 23 falls, keeping California's global warming law intact

Prop. 19 headed to defeat, exit polls show

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