California State Parks in Limbo

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July 24, 2012

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Stashed Funds May Delay Park Closures

California Gov. Jerry Brown will work with lawmakers to determine how some of the $54 million stashed by the parks department can be used to help keep state parks open, a spokeswoman for the governor said Monday (July 23) as supporters who helped raise millions for the beleaguered system urged that the money be used for that purpose, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Elizabeth Ashford, a spokeswoman for Brown, said that his administration “is going to work with legislators to determine how this money can be used to mitigate park closures.”

On Friday, state officials said they had opened an investigation after learning that the California Department of Parks and Recreation had failed to report for more than a decade that it had $54 million stowed in special funds. Parks Director Ruth Coleman resigned, and her deputy was fired.

Nonprofit leaders who raise money to benefit state parks said that using the newly discovered money for park operations will be a key step toward rebuilding public trust. But they warned that the windfall alone wouldn’t solve the troubled system’s problems.

“It is just appalling,” said Ann Briggs of the Coe Park Preservation Fund, which gave the state $279,000 in privately raised money to keep Henry W. Coe State Park in Santa Clara County open this year. “We don’t know what to think. … Our reaction has been one of total surprise, total shock that this has happened. We are not sure what is going to be the next step.”

The state, which has chronic deficits, slashed the parks department budget by more than $50 million over the past four years. Additionally, the parks department has deferred $1.3 billion in maintenance, said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the nonprofit California State Parks Foundation.

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