domenica 27 maggio 2012

from Los Angeles times

Park closures just don't pencil out

The governor's plan to shut parks to save $22 million won't make a dent in the projected deficit and doesn't account for the effect shutting them would have on communities.

California parks
Pio Pico State Park in Whittier is one that may be closed because of budget cuts. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times / May 27, 2012)
SACRAMENTO — For most people, Memorial Day kicks off the vacation season. For Gov. Jerry Brown, however, it is the time to start closing state parks.
That's right. Shut off the water, cart off the privies, lock the gates.
Summer's around the corner, but the state's bleeding red ink. Sacramento needs to cut back and s
This isn't even penny wise and pound foolish. It's not even pennies. It's nuts.
Do the math.
Brown calculates that closing 70 state parks would save the general fund $22 million. Leave aside that the governor's record as a calculator is not stellar. He projected a $9.2-billion deficit in January; it ballooned to $15.7 billion by May. But let's accept the $22-million figure. That amounts to only 1/714 of the amount needed to fill the deficit hole.
Every penny may count. But if the deficit were $1, the park-closure savings wouldn't even be a penny. Not close. It would work out to roughly 1/7 of a penny.
That's my calculation. I'm sure somebody will correct me if I'm way off.
Regardless, we're talking about some scenic treasures, inherited natural gems that enrich the California lifestyle. Our state parks recorded roughly 65 million visits last year.
"There's not a California brochure that you've seen in your lifetime that didn't have redwoods and beaches on it," says state Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), one of the legislators searching for a way to keep most of the parks open.
"This is not my idea of a strategy to attract tourism and hospitality growth in California."
In truth, California's state parks have been deteriorating for years. They're just too vulnerable to budget cuts. There's a backlog of $1 billion-plus in deferred maintenance: leaking roofs, rotting water pipes, broken fences, oozing septic tanks, eroded trails.
"We do a lot to hide it," parks Director Ruth Coleman told me two summers ago. "If a bathroom is nonfunctioning, we put a lock on it. We're locking every other bathroom on the beaches."
That fall, California voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure that would have substantially boosted state funding for parks by requiring motorists to pay an additional $18 on their vehicle registration fee. In return, the vehicles would have been entitled to free entry and parking at parks.
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the first to propose shuttering dozens of state parks to balance the budget. But he backed off under heavy fire from local communities.
Brown last year proposed closing 70 of the 279 parks. The parks survived that summer with cutbacks. So far only one has been closed, Providence Mountain in the Mojave Desert.
The Legislature gave the governor permission to close all 70 parks July 1. But 17 have been spared, to varying degrees, with help from nonprofits, local communities, donors and the feds.
That leaves 53 on the hit list. State parks spokesman Roy Stearns says there are 19 other "good possibilities" of survival but no deals yet.
No matter, Brown insists on saving the $22 million — either through closures or essentially dumping the cost on someone else.
For perspective, the governor's parks budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 is $383 million, including $112 million from the general fund and the rest from various special kitties and user fees.

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