California lawmakers vote to let nonprofits run state parks
May 19, 2011
SACRAMENTO, Calif. and#8212;-With budget cuts threatening to force the shutdown of 70 California state parks, the state Assembly on Thursday unanimously approved legislation making it easier for nonprofit groups to take over operations at some parks.
The bill, AB42, passed 67-0 Thursday with little discussion and was sent to the Senate.
The author, Democratic Assemblyman Jared Huffman of San Rafael, said the measure might not be a complete solution to keeping parks open, but it could help. “This is not a silver bullet,” he said.
Huffman, the chairman of the Assembly Committee on Water, Parks and Wildlife, has previously said the planned closings would be “devastating for park visitors throughout the state.”
State parks officials last week announced that $33 million in budget cuts passed by the Legislature in March would force the state to close 70 of California’s 278 parks, beaches and historic areas around the state as of July 2012. They said they would seek partnerships with local governments and nonprofits to keep some open, but they noted that the process to partner with a nonprofit to operate a park was complicated and in the past has required special legislation.
Without operating agreements, the state plans to close park sites across the state, from Pacific Coast beaches and redwood groves to Gold Rush era mining sites in the Sierra Nevada and mansions in Sacramento.
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Officials noted that the $99 million budget from the state’s general fund for parks in 2012-2013 is 40 percent less than the agency received in 2007-2008, and that about 500 of the 2,300 authorized parks jobs are vacant. About 200 more workers would be affected by the planned closings, but some could be transferred to vacant positions.
While the bill still must clear the Senate, the California State Parks Foundation is hopeful that it offers another avenue to keep parks open, said president Elizabeth Goldstein. The group is a sponsor of Huffman’s bill.
Operating agreements with nonprofits “would be an important short-term step to protect these parks,” she said.
“We’ve been hearing from organizations that are very interested” in partnerships with the state to run various parks, Goldstein said, and the foundation itself also will look at whether it makes sense to pursue an agreement with the state.
California State Parks director Ruth Coleman said last week that the state was eager to explore ways to preserve the parks slated for closure, but there would be a learning curve.
Several other bills that would encourage partnerships to operate state parks are pending in legislative committees or on the Assembly floor.