State parks to remain open despite budget cuts, officials say
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."
-- Michael J. Mishak and Chris Megerian in Sacramento
Photo: China Camp visitor Remy Wilson walks past one of the old shrimping boats on display. Credit: Brant Ward / San Francisco Chronicle