“Creative” is Roy Stearns' favorite word these days. Stearns, a spokesman for California's Department of Parks and Recreation, has been a busy man since first the legislature, then the governor, slashed deeply into his department's budget. Last may Governor Schwarzenegger suggested that 220 of California's state parks might have to be closed. Fortune seemed to smile on the parks department when, after some log-rolling in Sacramento, its budget merely suffered a net loss of $8 million. It was a hit, but not a cut across the tendons. Then came the governor's last-minute, line-item vetoes, when he lopped another $6.2 million from parks. That hurt and with the stroke of a pen the number of predicted park closures doubled from 50 to 100.
“You've gotta be creative, we're going to get past this,” says Stearns, who is the department's deputy director for communications. “We're not the kind of people who let go and walk away.”
One of the ways the parks people will be creative is in reaching out to
form “public-private” partnerships with cities, counties or nonprofit
organizations to pitch in with money or other
resources to help keep open certain parks. The list of potential donors
corporations and companies, although privatization is out of the
question: “We won't be selling or leasing our parks,” Stearns says. In
another twist of fate, according to a department-issued fact sheet,
parks will lose money tied to the state's cigarette tax.
“If people stop smoking,” says Stearns ruefully, “we lose that income — so if you would please smoke some more . . .”
He's kidding — in a way. That same fact sheet notes that the department isn't just going to suffer a $14.2 million
shortfall over the next year — it claims it's also going to lose $10 million in admission
revenue from closed parks. Just which parks will go dark is a question on everyone's mind.
not releasing any list because we don't know yet,” says Stearns, who
adds that a statewide accounting will be undertaken to see which parks
are profitable and which vulnerable ones (the unprofitable kind) can be
kept open and how. That list won't be issued until after Labor Day.
Stearns says his department is talking to the U.S. National Park
Service to work on keeping open redwood parks along the state's north
Another thing weighing on his colleagues' minds is how to
protect the closed parks from vandals, pot farmers and the fire dangers
their already-destructive activities pose.
“It's a very big
concern of ours,” Stearns says. “You'll have a visitor center with a
gift shop, classrooms, offices. Park rangers always deter vandals and
others — but now some will have to move out to other parks. We almost
need a Neighborhood Watch from Oregon to the Mexican border.”
Parks Dept. Fact Sheet:
Parks Talking Points.pdf