Closing 70 state parks to save $22 million is an exercise in stupidity, especially when you consider that California is receiving a projected $6.5 billion in unanticipated revenue this year.
That $22 million ends up being .003 percent of that $6.5 billion.
Consider, too, that state parks generate $6 billion in revenue every year. Parks are economic engines for their local communities. A park user spends, on average, $58 per person per day in local communities.
Our own Morro Strand State Beach is on the permanent closure list. This means an annual loss of $2.5 million from Morro Strand alone.
I’ve talked to many concerned local citizens.
“We need to start a nonprofit to help Morro Strand,” they say. “We need more volunteers.”
I commend them. But what we really need is for all this energy to be directed back to Gov. Jerry Brown and our local legislators — about this exercise in stupidity.
Legislators also say: “We just need more volunteers,” although in our park district alone we have more than 700 volunteers who build and patrol trails, provide educational programs and visitor information, repair exhibits and who monitor environmental projects.
As a cooperating nonprofit providing funding to State Parks for educational programs, the Central Coast Natural History Association is walking a fine line. We are being told to “step up to the plate and possibly operate closed parks.”
OK, what does that look like in the case of Morro Strand?
We already have volunteers in place, and I doubt they will clean toilets.
We would need to raise camping fees to cover the “unseen costs” of housekeeping, maintenance, electricity, water systems and housekeeping. We would need to contract security. Would that be overly stretched county or city peace officers? Private security?
This is where I really get annoyed. We already have professional park staff who do the work well under a lot of pressure. If we needed to hire security, of course, I would “hire” our current park rangers — in other words, backfill state park salaries.
OK, I’m a fundraiser by trade — why don’t I approach a big corporation to donate to the park? What if I raise $100,000 to keep the park open for 2012? What about 2013, 2014? If I found a corporation to provide funding, would I need to change the name to, say, Coca-Cola Morro Strand State Beach and make sure the logo was everywhere?
This is sounding ludicrous. Let’s just close the dang thing!
But we all know what that means: A heyday for nefarious doings. Parties. Garbage, including used toilet paper, because there aren’t any operating toilets. Drugs. What snowy plovers?
In other words, we can’t really close it.
But what does an “open” park mean? Remember when we were trying to keep 220 state parks from closing?
At the last minute, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger “saved” parks from closures. But parks suffered cuts in funding resulting in enormous service reductions. Some parks are only open two days a week, and have closed bathrooms and trails. Under Schwarzenegger’s definition, this is an “open park.”
The logic does not add up. Closing parks is not about a system that isn’t valued and does not generate revenue — it’s a visual public gesture about how hard times are.
I’m committed to doing whatever it takes to keep Morro Strand open. But right now, instead of trying to divvy up work assignments at the Strand and getting fundraising commitments from community organizations and citizens, let’s send a message back to the legislators.
Stop the accounting madness. Attend the Town Hall meeting on Tuesday at the Museum of Natural History. Visit the California State Parks Foundation website and send letters to our legislators and Brown. Join the “Don’t Let the Parks Become Just a Memory” campaign.
Go to Sacramento on June 21 and join a rally against these closures. Demand our rights as owners of these public lands. And remember this exercise in stupidity at the next election.
Mary Golden is executive director of the Central Coast Natural History Association.