State parks may get help from business, advocates

SACRAMENTO
June 3, 2013 1:00pm
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•  Independent commission to probe and suggest

•  “We are fully aware the eyes of Californians are on us”


California’s battered and beleaguered state park system goes under the microscope of a new volunteer panel, which is to make a top-to-bottom evaluation to figure out how to improve and sustain it.

The panel, dubbed the “Parks Forward Commission,” will lead the new initiative, designed to implement the directives of the California State Parks Stewardship Act of 2012 to revive and improve California’s state parks.

Currently, there are 280 state parks covering 1.6 million acres, drawing some 70 million visitors annually, returning an estimated $6.5 billion to the California economy and supporting 56,000 California jobs.

Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown tried to close scores of parks because of budget problems. Volunteer groups stepped forward to keep many open.

And then it was discovered that parks officials had, somewhat like the squirrels they oversaw, stuffed away tens of millions of dollars in various funds.

“We are fully aware the eyes of Californians are on us, and I am committed to making this initiative open and transparent, and one that yields achievable results,” says California State Parks Director Anthony Jackson, who was appointed after the hidden money came to light.

The discovering of the unspent funding has lead to audits and investigations. The unreported funding of $20.5 million was returned to the Department, and half is being used to prevent park closures. So far, more than $3 million has been awarded to parks across the state via matching fund agreements.

However, the funding will expire next year. State General Fund support for parks has dropped by 37 percent in the past five years, and the Department has a deferred maintenance backlog of more than $1.3 billion.

The Parks Forward Commission, a panel of experts, citizens, and advocates, will conduct an assessment of the parks system and recommend substantial improvements. This independent process is to address the financial, operational, cultural, and population challenges facing state parks to ensure the system’s long-term viability, functionality, and relevance.


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