Emerald Bay park would close under governor’s proposal | SierraSun.com

Emerald Bay park would close under governor’s proposal

SACRAMENTO ” Many of the Redwoods along the foggy north coast, the Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, Emerald Bay on the shore of Lake Tahoe and Will Rogers’ Southern California ranch are among 220 parks Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing to shutter at the end of the summer, state parks officials said Thursday.

“This is a worst-case scenario,” said Roy Sterns, a spokesman at the state parks department. “If we can do less than this we will try but under the present proposal this is it.”

Schwarzenegger has recommended eliminating $70 million in parks spending through June 30, 2010 as part of his proposal to close a $24.3 billion deficit. Another $143.4 million would be saved in the following fiscal year by keeping the parks closed.

The Legislature last year rejected the governor’s proposal to close 48 state parks, but lawmakers from both parties said California’s budget deficit is now so dire that it is likely some parks will close this year.

“This is an unprecedented crisis and things that were previously dead on arrival are a lot more viable in a crisis like this,” said Jared Huffman, a Democrat from San Rafael who chairs the Assembly’s parks and wildlife committee. “I think some cuts are coming to the parks and they’ll be cuts I won’t like and the public won’t like.”

The state parks department said that a $70 million cut would leave it with enough money to run just 59 of California’s 279 state parks.

The state’s famed park system attracts nearly 80 million visitors a year. William Randolph Hearst’s Castle on the central coast and a dozen other so-called money makers would remain open under the proposal released Thursday, as would many Southern California beaches that attract millions of visitors year round.’

Some of California’s most storied parks are among those that could close, including Fort Ross State Historic Park, the southernmost Russian settlement in North America, Bodie State Historic Park, one of the best-preserved Old West ghost towns in the Western U.S., Big Basin Redwoods, the oldest state park, and Humboldt Redwoods State Park, which boasts the world’s tallest tree.

Schwarzenegger’s proposal has angered conservationists and Democrats in the Legislature, who say California’s parks are treasured spots that generate tourism dollars for both the state and local communities.

“State parks draw tourism to California,” State Parks Foundation president Elizabeth Goldstein said. “This proposal makes the budget situation worse.”

The foundation estimates the state gets a $2.35 return for every dollar it spends on parks.

California spends roughly $400 million a year running California’s 279 state parks and beaches, with roughly a third of the money coming from the state general fund. Bond funds, gasoline and highway taxes, federal funds and other pots of money make up the rest.

Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines, R-Clovis, said the state can’t afford to subsidize state parks at a time when lawmakers are being asked to make severe cuts to health care, seniors services, education and prisons.

“Parks are just not going to be a priority over public safety and education, as much as we hate to see them close,” Villines said.

At least 2,000 park rangers, biologists, lifeguards, interpreters, architects and maintenance workers would be laid off if the proposal is adopted, said Sterns, the parks spokesman.

The layoffs would be in addition to 5,000 jobs the governor has already recommended cutting.

“When you cut that much you have to let go highly trained teams of biologists that you can’t get back in a year or two,” Huffman said of the park cuts. “It’s a myth to think you can mothball the entire system. These cuts will cripple the park system for a decade or more.”

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