After spending a century building the nation's largest and most majestic state park system, Californians are poised to do something unprecedented: Retreat from that legacy and start closing parks.
Years of budget cuts in the California State Parks system have resulted in widespread reductions in park hours, crumbling facilities and reduced staffing. But in the past few years, lawmakers have rejected widespread closures proposed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Now, however, the climate has changed. Gov. Jerry Brown's budget requires another $22 million in cuts to the parks budget – a pittance compared with the $25 billion state budget deficit, but a number that even strong parks supporters say is unlikely to be achieved without shuttering parks.
Brown also wants cuts of $30 million to local libraries and $32 million to local fairs.
"I think they are going to have to close parks," said Traci Verardo-Torres, vice president of governmental affairs for the California State Parks Foundation, the nonprofit advocate for parks. "This is uncharted territory."
Voters rejected a foundation-sponsored ballot measure in November that would have added $18 to annual vehicle registrations to pay for park operations. Its passage would have prevented closures.
Now, officials at the Parks Department are preparing a list of closures to accommodate the $22 million cut.
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