It would be absurd for the state to consider taking on new park projects when it can’t afford to operate the parks it already manages. But acquisition of Wild Cherry Canyon — a 2,400-acre stretch of undeveloped coastline in the Irish Hills, behind Avila Beach — hardly qualifies as a new project.
The purchase has been in the pipeline for more than a decade, and after years of hard work and negotiations, the entire purchase price of $21 million — a combination of state and local grants and private funding — is ready and waiting.
We should point out, too, that this would not be a drain on State Parks’ strained operations budget.
Simply put, the property can remain under lock and key until the state is back on its fiscal feet and better able to provide staffing and visitor services that are needed.
So it’s both puzzling and discouraging to learn that, even though the fundraising is over, closure of the deal still hangs in the balance. Specifically, the state Public Works Board — which oversees land acquisitions by several state agencies — has yet to approve disbursement of $6.9 million in State Parks funding.
This should be a straightforward matter.
The $6.9 million expenditure was approved by the state’s voters in 2000, when they passed Proposition 12 — a $2.1 billion parks bond act.
The money has been allocated, the bonds have been sold, and the revenue cannot be spent on another project without going back to the voters for authorization.
So what’s the holdup?
The American Land Conservancy — the nonprofit agency that put the deal together — said it’s been trying for months to get the item on the agenda of the Public Works Board.
State Parks officials say they’ve also made the formal request to have the item on the agenda and, to their knowledge, have submitted all the necessary paperwork.
Department of General Services, though, has indicated that there are still outstanding issues — including terms and conditions of a transfer of the property to the state — that must be addressed, and that it could be several months before the item is on the agenda.
Meanwhile, advocates of the project are afraid the whole deal could collapse.
The option to purchase the property expires in October, and after several extensions, the owners may no longer be willing to sell at the agreed-upon price of $21 million, which is down from the original appraisal of $24 million.
It would be a shame to lose this opportunity.
This is a tremendous accomplishment by the American Land Conservancy, as well the government officials who helped move it forward and the local residents who lobbied for it every step of the way.
The acquisition will greatly expand Montaña de Oro State Park and eventually allow construction of a 20-mile trail linking Avila Beach and Morro Bay.
So again, why the holdup?
There’s been speculation that the Brown administration is worried that it will send a mixed message if an expenditure such as this is approved, even as existing parks are earmarked for closure.
We hope that’s not the case.
That could rob Central Coast residents — indeed, all Californians — of what may be a last-chance opportunity to preserve this rare stretch of undeveloped coastline.
We agree that in this time of economic crisis, it’s important to weigh each expenditure and to delay those that aren’t absolutely necessary.
That’s why we raised an eyebrow when we learned that the state was moving forward with an allocation of $93 million in safe drinking water bond funds for projects such as museums and visitors centers, including amenities at Nipomo’s Dana Adobe.
We said then — and we repeat now — that voters should be extremely cautious before they incur any additional bond debt, particularly for projects that aren’t absolutely essential.
But in this case, the voters made their wishes clear back in 2000, and the bonds have been sold and allocated to Wild Cherry Canyon.
With the clock ticking, we can see no good reason to put this project off any longer.
If we do, we not only waste the time and effort that’s gone into the project, we also could squander our last chance to preserve one of the few remaining undeveloped stretches of California coastline.
We strongly urge the Public Works Board to expedite this last step necessary to purchase Wild Cherry Canyon.