More California state parks scratched off the closure list

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March 20, 2012

By Bob Difley

blues_festivalIt’s rare when you find a government employee/bureaucrat that, when given a difficult job, comes through with creative ideas and then makes them work . (Note a rewording of this sentence in my comment below.) California may have found one in State Parks Director, Ruth Coleman (who has worked for both Democratic and Republican governors).

When Governor Jerry Brown took office, one year and four months ago, the state parks were faced with the closure of 70 of their 278 state parks by July 1st because of budget shortfalls, declining revenues, and all the other problems confronting states today. Since then she and her hard-working staff have managed to pull off what the politicians couldn’t, working out deals with a variety of partners that enabled her to remove 12 parks from the closure list.  And agreements are in the works to scratch another five off the death list.

An additional 20 deals are being worked out with various organizations and businesses to work out a plan with county and regional park districts, cities, and non-profit groups to operate the parks for at least a year, giving the economy time to recover and to find new sources of funding.

Ms. Coleman has also offered incentives to park department staff to come up with creative ideas to keep the parks open, like the opening of a wine-tasting kiosk at Topanga State Park in Malibu and holding a blues festival (photo) at Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park in Coloma. These are creative ways to not only raise needed revenue but also to add to the visitor experience without detracting from the beauty of the parks.

She had help from the recently passed Assembly Bill AB42 that allows 20 state parks to be operated entirely by a non-profit. State park officials are also trying to work out details with private concessionaires to operate another 10 parks.

Now if the legislature, parks officials, and the voting public can get it together to form a completely separate endowment to pay for park operations, then the future of the parks wouldn’t have to depend on the legislature cutting the park budget and raiding the revenues the park raises in fees and concession payments for general budget shortfalls, then maybe that would be on the right track for both saving and operating state parks. And it might be a good model for state parks around the country that are now beholden to their legislators’ largess.

Check out my website for more RVing tips and destinations and for my ebooks, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands (or for Kindle version), Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts (Kindle version), and 111 Ways to Get the Biggest Bang out of your RV Lifestyle Dollar (Kindle version).

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  392. DB

    Thanks for the clarification. ANYBODY who helps to develop a good plan, as Ms. Coleman and the other public servants she works with have, deserves a pat on the back and a round of applause. I hope I have a chance soon to visit one of their parks! And, thank you Bob for restating your intent. I am glad to once again be an avid follower of your blog.

  393. Norma Mitchell

    I do believe that we in California added $10.00 dollars to our Automobile Tags to keep the state parks operating–Am I mistaken…..Where is that money now?

  394. Mary

    Great clarification. I was often told, for political reasons, to stall, decline answering etc. The Republican Governor, took the budget of every person at my level and used it for pet his projects requiring us to cancel supportive and productive work already in process. Made us look stupid.

  395. California might have a reason to complain about Gov. wanting to close parks for money problems but election time they seem to reelect all or most of the people they complain about. It is time to try try new blood in elected offices or quit complaning.

  396. Bob Difley

    As George, DB, Phil, and Mary pointed out in their comments, my statement that “It’s rare when you find a government employee/bureaucrat that, when given a difficult job, comes through with creative ideas and then makes them work.” was poorly and inadequately stated, and would have more accurately expressed what I was trying to say as “It’s rare when you find government employees/bureaucrats that, when given difficult jobs, come through with creative ideas, make them work, and are acknowledged or rewarded for their efforts.”
    Often political ramifications imposed by lawmakers and supervisors hinder the effective or common sense approach to government employees’ decisions and performance of their jobs. I have, as those above have written, direct experience with a family member–my son–who is a government employed school teacher being stymied in his job performance by political decisions (such as taking the safest track rather than one that might actually work better) by those in power. To go a step further, more transparency between those in power and and the public they serve on the decisions and controls placed on dedicated and hard-working employees would encourage public employees to make creative decisions without fears of politically motivated recriminations or even loss of their jobs. Then maybe there would be more Ruth Colemans and her staff being recognized for their efforts.

  397. Barry Engleman

    Seems to me it doesn’t much matter whether they keep the California State Parks afloat or not if average people can’t afford to go to them. Over $30 a night to camp without any hookups it a bit much I think. Take a look at much it costs to stay one night at the State Park near San Simeon.

  398. Mary

    I too am tired of the cheap shots at people like me an, OMG, government employee. I worked very hard for the public and this is what many like you say about me without know me. I served the public for 20+ years. I stopped reading your article right there.

  399. Phil Welch


    I wonder if this might apply to a teacher or a correctional employee: “t’s rare when you find a government employee”.
    I don’t believe I am ‘thin skinned’, I am just fed up with people taking cheap shots at ‘governmental employees’.

  400. Dogleg

    George, The article said nothing about teachers, nor police nor firemen….the reference was clearly towards lawmakers. Geez, how thin-skinned can you possibly get? Slow down man, and catch a breath.

  401. stephanie

    My husband and I are Californians. I am sorry to say this, but we avoid the State Parks in favor of the National Forests and Parks. Why? Pure cost: the State parks do not offer free admission and 1/2 off camping for senior citizens. The economy being what it is, we appreciate and enjoy the benefits of the Senior Pass for the National forests and parks. I wonder if the California State Parks offered a better senior discount or reduced their prices in general (they are on par with many private RV Parks) if they might attract a lot more people. More people = more revenue. Just a thought–maybe I am being too cheap 🙂

  402. chris christensen

    Folks, don’t you get it? Whenever there is a backlash towards government and taxes–local, state and federal; the first thing they do is stick it to the citizens. They stick it in our face. The locals threaten to close libraries and moth-ball a fire truck or a police officer. The county closes a park or wayside. The state shuts down parks and rest stops. The fed shuts down all the national monuments.
    If they gave you and I the budget pen, we would find all sorts of wastefully, useless govmt programs we could chop.
    They sell out to a private concern to run our parks–like a monopoly, except the parks are ours already.

  403. Phil Welch

    I’m another one that was pleased to see ‘George’ stated what I want to say. I worked for 27 years in a maximum security prison after serving during Nam in the Air force and my wife was a fantastic teacher for over 30 years. I was pleased to work with educated, dedicated individuals who worked in difficult situations under less than pleasant environments. I think you should think before you slander and denigrate government employees.I’m really upset due to my daughter having served for 9 years in the Navy is now one of those ‘government employees’ serving in the war zone while you are able to enjoy the fruits of our/hers efforts. That is all I will say so as not to over step the boundaries of good taste as I would like when telling you what I really think.

  404. DB

    Just a quick word to agree with George above. I regularly read your blog for the (usually) clear and compelling thoughts and observations – wishing for the day I can spend more time out there on the road too. My grandmother always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about person, you shouldn’t say anything at all.” Although it seems we have pretty much abandoned that advice in today’s world, I rather thought your posts were a safer place to spend some time online every so often. I urge you to avoid cheap shots like the one about public employees in today’s blog.

  405. Sue

    California, just as other governments, has unqualified people in public office and working in government jobs. But my experience has been that most of them are sincere and don’t set out to confound those for whom they work. California has many people who have “made it big” and some of them have put their dollars to work for the general public. Here in Southern California we have the Disney Concert Hall, Dorthey Chandller Pavilion, the L.A. Art Museum and lots of others. I think the idea to set up an endowment fund that is dedicated solely to the acqusition, development and maintence of state parks is a great one and I hope some group or individual steps forth to do that. I will gladly contribute what I can from my very small retirement income.

  406. George

    “It’s rare when you find a government employee/bureaucrat that, when given a difficult job, comes through with creative ideas and then makes them work.”

    Bob, I would have appreciated your article much more without that cheap shot at government employees. I’ve been a teacher all my life and dedicated enormous energy and love to the kids I work with. A friend works diligently for very low pay in the circuit court system, assuming more and more duties with no raise in 5 years. I’m very happy that Ruth Coleman, a government employee, disproved your hypothesis and came up with a creative solution to keep parks open for us.

    Please don’t cheapen your informative articles with stereotypes. You’re better than that. Thanks.

  407. Glen Jones

    Getting the elected Idiots to pass a law that would put the funds from the State Parks back into the State Parks would probably be impossible those crooks in public office like takeing the money and useing it to benefit their rich friends instead of doing something for the public good.

  408. butterbean carpenter

    Howdy Bob,
    Gosh, you mean some people who work for the governments THINK?? It’s not a very good idea to turn state parks over to concessionaires, though, then they don’t care about the parks, just how much $$$ they can get out of them before they ruin it and get run off!!!

  409. easy solution, don’t put the money in the general fund, set it aside in a fund that the legislature CANNOT touch. Once they see extra money they will want to spend it.

  410. Gary

    It is really nice to hear that someone gives a damn about state parks. I am not from California, but I do soundly applaud her efforts for all concerned. Maybe my state. Washington can do something better than a “Discover Pass” at $30 per car, yes if you pull something you will need TWO $30 passes. And if, you have an off-hwy vehicle and you want to fish, that’s another $30. And the pass is non-transferable between vehicles. Not a good answer. Like the ones listed above where actual concern is directly obvious.