Editor’s Note: In recent news, private donors and nonprofits have stepped up to stop the closure of nearly all 70 state parks that were expected to be shuttered. An additional $10 million in state funding that avoided a Gov. Jerry Brown veto will also help keep the park doors open.
Thank you to the California State Parks Foundation for their informative documentary film, “The First 70,” shown at the Commons Beach outdoor movie theater last month about the sad closure of 70 state parks due to a $22 million budget shortfall, which included some breathtaking shots from some of California’s most gorgeous public spaces. Two of our area’s most awesome parks, Emerald Bay and D.L. Bliss, will be returned to us for our use for a whopping whole two-and-a-half months this year.
Where is the money to pay to re-open our parks and to expand the hours of those on attenuated schedules? It’s right in front of our faces. It’s kind of hard not to notice when you’re having your nose rubbed in it! While I’m completely disinterested in the details of the budgetary and political chicanery involved in shunting $6.8 million of public money, federal and state, to a private contractor to renovate a museum in Donner Memorial State Park, we all can see that $6.8 million neatly represents almost a third of the entire budget shortfall alone. That single project represents the budget for 20 closed state parks.
Public money is being used to deny public access in order to grant private access. That contract was finalized last year in April, well after it was known that the budgetary axe was going to come down especially hard on our state park system. I understand that Caltrans was charged with allocating the money for this type of project. Any budget containing $6.8 million for an unnecessary project, in light of the closures, has been budgeted $6.8 million too much!
This is a scenario likely playing out statewide — public wealth, land, and an irrational amount of patience being handed over to private contractors while the public itself is being denied access to what is ours.
The job creation argument used as a shallow rationale is a bogus one and it takes no algebra major to see that. Just ask any member of a community where a state park has already been closed or fired park rangers and personnel. Ask any member of a recreation and vacation community that has been laid siege to by the private contracting machine. Slashing budgets, destroying jobs, and ruining communities in order to divert even more of the public’s money to private contracting jobs is NOT job creation.
It’s disappointing that our own senators, Feinstein and Boxer, couldn’t have spent the same effort helping us find $22 million to keep our park system operating at its capacity as they did as the principal sponsors of the recently passed Lake Tahoe Restoration Act with its $450 million budget. Count on our local state parks never seeing a nickel of that money in order to stay open or re-extend their time of operation. Despite a low six-figure sum necessary to keep D.L. Bliss and Emerald Bay open longer, $20.3 million will be budgeted alone for the invasive species inspectors/contractors.
If $22 million really cannot be found to keep our state parks open, from any of the mega-billion dollar sources apparently being used by projects like the museum project, such as the $2.6 billion Proposition 40 bond measure in 2002, federal highway dollars, the Caltrans budget, or even something like the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act money, it stinks, but fine. However, turning our tax dollars over to private contractors who are directly profiting from our loss is rubbing our noses in it.
~ Mark Adams lives in Tahoe City.