New panel formed to ‘fix’ state parks system

Trinidad State Beach, near Patrick's Point State Park.
(Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

Still recovering from last year’s financial scandal, state parks officials said Monday they are creating a Parks Forward Commission to find ways to put the system on more solid footing, including a possible expansion of partnerships with private groups that can help keep parks open.

The 12-member panel is to be appointed by California Secretary of Natural Resources John Laird, who said he wants it to conduct a “top-to-bottom evaluation” of parks operations during the next 18 months.

“I look forward to it coming up with innovative and creative methods of sustaining our parks through the next century,” state parks director Anthony Jackson said in a conference call with reporters.

Laird said the parks system has had its allocation from the state’s general fund cut by about 37% in the last five years, which has resulted in increased fees, so new sources of funding need to be found for California’s 280 parks.

The study was required by legislation approved last year in response to a scandal in which parks officials admitted a hidden surplus of nearly $23 million at the same time Gov. Jerry Brown was threatening to close facilities.


The Legislature provided $10 million in matching funds for foundations and other groups willing to put up money to keep specific parks operating and cover deferred maintenance. So far, $3.5 million has been paid out, officials said.

More needs to be done to protect the parks system in the future, said Laird, who named Lance Conn, a venture capitalist, as the first member of the commission.

Conn said he hopes Californians bring their ideas to the table at meetings to be held throughout the state. “I love California’s parks and I love solving tough problems, and I think this is a great way for the average citizen to get involved to fix this important resource,” he told reporters.

The commission’s work is to be funded by donations from private foundations, including the James Irvine Foundation and David and Lucile Packard Foundation, Laird said.


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