Californians cannot expect state parks, as beloved as they are, to be spared from the budget ax. Not when the elderly are going without home health aides and schools are pink-slipping thousands of teachers. Whether it’s practical to close 70 of the state’s parks, as Gov. Jerry Brown proposes, is another matter.
The state Department of Parks and Recreation has done a thoughtful job of targeting parks for closure based on whether they are lightly visited, of lower historical value and so forth; although the 70 make up a quarter of the state parks, they represent only 8% of the visits. But many of them are hard to close to public use, which is why the parks department should be putting more emphasis on closing facilities that are easy to padlock, such as museums or historic buildings.
Consider what it means, for instance, to “close” Palomar Mountain State Park’s 1,800 acres in San Diego County, one of many large parks on the list. The state can lock the gates to the main access road, of course. But the park is adjacent to the much-larger Palomar district of the Cleveland National Forest and shares trails with that federal open land. Motorists might stay out, along with law-abiding types who respect rules, but many others will enter illegally, heedless of the lack of staff to rescue them in case of trouble. While the parks are closed, patrols will be infrequent.
Campers who try to escape detection are more likely to set up campfires in the backcountry, creating a fire hazard. Meth labs and marijuana farms are always a concern in larger parks with remote areas. And one bad fire would more than wipe out the $22 million the state hopes to save next year by shutting all 70 parks.
If an endangered species is harmed by a closure, the state is answerable to the federal government. If illegal use of the park or failure to maintain the grounds creates a neighborhood nuisance, the state could face legal action.
The state is obviously trying to encourage other agencies or organizations to keep some of these parks open through private partnerships. One way to help that happen would be for Democrats to embrace a bill by Republican Assemblyman Kevin Jeffries of Riverside that would allow local governments — cities and counties — to operate state parks that otherwise would be closed. AB 64 has been held up by Democrats because of the budget impasse between the two parties, a bad way to treat a well-conceived bill.