FRESNO (AP) — With a July 1 deadline approaching for dozens of California state parks on a budget closure list, legislators are scrambling to keep them open with bills meant to raise money through specialty license tags and improved entrance fee collections.
However, state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said he has found existing revenue sources that could help defray the $22 million shortfall in operating costs. He hopes his bill will help keep at least 50 of the 70 parks on the list from closing.
“The notion of closing 70 state parks is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Simitian, chairman of the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation. “It doesn’t make sense to take what may prove to be irreversible actions if we go down this path.”
The state has a total of 280 parks. The California Department of Parks and Recreation says 35 of the 70 parks on the closure list either have deals in place or in the works to stay open.
The department has been working for months to find nonprofit groups, municipalities and other entities to take over maintenance, concessions and the other duties needed to keep the parks open.
Simitian’s bill, which his subcommittee is expected to vote today, proposes using existing state fees and funding sources to cover some park operating costs and improvements.
For years, the parks department has used its own budget dollars to pay for road improvements, maintenance and traffic enforcement inside parks, when instead it could have used money from the $500 million motor vehicle license fee account to bridge a $15 million gap, he said.
H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the California Department of Finance, said motor vehicle license fees can indeed be used for infrastructure costs. He said his department is meeting with Simitian’s staff to determine whether the proposal is viable.