Who pays and who doesn’t for access to the natural and historical wonders protected inside the state’s parks are key considerations amid calls to overhaul the 150-year-old parks system, an effort spawned by a major financial scandal involving the Parks Department in 2012 and perennial budget problems that threatened the closure of dozens of destinations.
Options that have been discussed for generating more revenue include opening up parks to more private enterprise, creating a dedicated funding source or allocating more money out of the state’s general fund, now that California’s financial health has improved.
But it’s the idea of asking people to pay more through fees that has sparked the most attention and controversy.
State parks officials, unbowed by public criticism of their bid to expand day-use fees at Sonoma Coast beaches, are taking their case to a higher authority.
The state plans to resume operation of Annadel State Park on July 1, ending a one-year experiment in which the sprawling, rugged open space on the edge of Santa Rosa has been run by the county’s Regional Parks division.
Attendance at Jack London and Sugarloaf has been higher in the past year than when the parks were being managed by the state, according to officials with the nonprofit groups that now run the sites. Both facilities also are on track to meet operating budgets this fiscal year.
The state’s plan to expand the number of beaches along the Sonoma Coast where visitors would be charged for parking faces its first crucial test in Santa Rosa today.
Sonoma County planners are recommending that the state be prevented from charging new day use fees at beaches up and down the coast on the grounds that doing so would limit public access and violate local and state laws.
A group of Fort Ross State Historic Park volunteers, Sonoma Coast Indians and government officials, including embattled Supervisor Efren Carrillo, arrived in Russia on Friday for a 14-day trip to trace the roots of early settlers on the North Coast. The trip is an outgrowth of the celebration this year of the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fort Ross by the Russians. The tour is not an official delegation, and the cost — about $4,000 per person — is being shouldered by the participants themselves, an organizer said.
Gov. Jerry Brown wanted to prentend it was no big deal. About the $54 million state parks surplus that went unreported for a dozen years, Brown joked Wednesday, ‘Hallelujah! More money it better than less money.’ Nice try. This particular dance is what we expect from a politician who hopes voters will approve a tax measure in November. But Brown knows the political damage is done. Anyone who worked to support parks in Sonoma County (or even wrote columns in support of local parks) knows the feeling. People feel disheartened. There is a sense of betrayal.
The state Senate on Thursday approved two bills authored by Sen. Noreen Evans that seek new strategies for keeping state parks open. SB974 would require more public involvement in decisions about closing and re-opening state parks. And SB1078 would encourage the state Department of Parks and Recreation to create an ‘innovation team’ that would take a more entrepreneurial approach to raising revenue.
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, the 4,000-acre gem east of Kenwood, appears to have avoided the budget ax and will remain open past a July 1 deadline when dozens of parks statewide are slated to shut down. A coalition of Sonoma County nonprofit groups announced Wednesday that it has reached an agreement with California State Parks to take over operations at Sugarloaf and fully reopen the park to the public on June 1, in time for the summer vacation and camping season.