It could have been worse. Montaña de Oro, for example, could have landed on the list of 70 state parks to be shuttered — a move that’s expected to save $22 million.
Instead, Morro Strand State Beach is the only SLO County property on the list of parks, beaches and museums to be closed starting in July 2012.
Compared to threats from previous years, that almost seems conservative. In 2009, for example, then-Gov. Schwarzenegger vowed to close as many as 220 of the state’s 278 parks — including eight in San Luis Obispo County.
That, of course, proved to be little more than a scare tactic. This time, we have the sense that Gov. Brown means business.
To the credit of State Parks, it did exercise care and caution in ranking parks, with a goal of keeping the most visited, most significant parks open.
As a result, overall attendance should be only slightly reduced; systemwide, the number of visitors is expected to drop by only 8 percent and revenue by just 6 percent.
But here’s our concern: That doesn’t take into account the potential economic harm to the areas where these parks are located — particularly to small communities that are highly dependent on tourism.
Morro Bay is a prime example.
Between campers and day-users, Morro Strand State Beach attracted nearly 140,000 visitors in 2007-08 (the most recent year for which statistics were available). The Morro Bay Chamber of Commerce says closure of the park, with its 76 campsites, would be devastating to the local economy.
That’s a major concern for a city that’s already struggling economically.
We also have nagging questions about how the state will go about shutting down parks.
Locking the doors to the Leland Stanford Mansion is one thing, but it’s not so easy to keep members of the public from trespassing onto rugged, remote parkland where they could fall and injure themselves, start clandestine campfires or even operate illegal drug labs.
As the Los Angeles Times recently pointed out in an editorial, one big blaze in a remote, untended state park could quickly wipe out the $22 million in savings projected by the closures.
Bottom line: We agree that the state must continue to look for savings wherever it can, but we wonder whether this latest effort to close parks isn’t another classic case of penny wise/pound foolish.
Before it makes a final decision to shut these parks, we strongly urge the state to do a full analysis of all of the costs and benefits — and to include the economic fallout for small communities such as Morro Bay.