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New report says California parks continue to lag

SACRAMENTO -- California’s parks are being dragged down by stagnant leadership, inadequate resources and a failure to serve the state’s growing population of young Latinos, according to a draft report from an independent commission created to examine the troubled park system.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation “has not been able to keep pace with the times and now faces significant system-wide financial and organizational challenges,” the report says. “These challenges place at risk the system’s continued viability, as well as the public’s trust and confidence in the Department charged with caring for the state’s natural and cultural resources.”

The report, which will be worked on throughout the year, is scheduled to be presented to the Parks Forward Commission next week.

The parks department has been under close scrutiny since 2012, when it was revealed that agency officials had stockpiled millions of dollars at a time when the state was closing parks because of budget cuts. The department’s director was ousted and a new one appointed with a mandate to refurbish the parks system’s image and operations.

The Parks Forward report, much like others released since the accounting scandal came to light, suggests the department has a long way to go.

"Despite years of well-intentioned external reports and internal strategic plans, the Department has not yet been able to achieve the magnitude or scope of change needed," the report says.

Improving the parks system will require “fundamentally transforming its operations and management,” the report states. For example, it says the leadership needs to be more diverse and include more people who are not public safety officers.

The report also says there aren’t enough parks in California’s growing urban areas, where there are increasing numbers of young Latinos. The department should experiment with new types of public spaces that include amenities like soccer fields and picnic areas, as well as improve transportation to parks, according to the report.

“The best way to get more Californians to understand the value of parks is to get more Californians to visit parks,” the report says.

The Parks Forward report says the department needs a permanent source of funding to safeguard the state’s natural resources and pay for more than $1 billion in overdue maintenance. However, the report does not suggest where the money could come from.

In a statement, Resources Secretary John Laird said he looks forward to “carefully reviewing the staff report and recommendations.”

He thanked the commission for “clearly putting a great deal of creative thought and effort into their top-to-bottom review.”

Vicky Waters, a parks spokeswoman, issued a statement saying department officials "will take a very close look at the report and their recommendations, and look forward to engaging the commission as this process moves forward."

ALSO:

California parks officials deliberately hid millions, report says

State urged to turn over parks to local governments, nonprofits

Panel examining troubled state parks department holds first hearing

chris.megerian@latimes.com
Twitter: @chrismegerian

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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