SAN JOSE, Calif. – Seventy of California’s 278 state parks will be closed under a plan announced Friday by Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, a historic blow to the state’s storied natural heritage that may actually get worse as lawmakers scramble to fix the budget crisis.
Although state parks officials initially said Friday the padlocks would go up starting in September, they revised that later in the day, saying instead none would close until July 1, 2012.
The list includes a significant number of Northern California parks, including Henry W. Coe State Park near Morgan Hill; Castle Rock and Twin Lakes State Beach in Santa Cruz County; Portola Redwoods in San Mateo County; Moss Landing State Beach and Limekiln State Park in Big Sur; and Samuel P. Taylor State Park in Marin County.
“We were working night and day to keep this day from coming. Nobody wanted to have to do this,” said state Natural Resources Secretary John Laird.
Laird made clear that even more parks could be closed in an effort to balance the state’s $15.4 billion deficit – especially if lawmakers fail to get Brown’s proposed tax extensions on the ballot or voters refuse to approve them. He noted that Friday’s list is based on budget cuts the state Legislature already approved in March, which cut the parks budget by $11 million this year and $22 million next year.
State parks director Ruth Coleman said all parks on the list will be shuttered indefinitely by July 1, 2012. She said the list – which includes beaches, forests and historic sites visited by 5 million people last year – was drawn up based on several criteria, including the amount of revenue each park produced, the number of visitors it draws, historic significance to school students, and complexities such as contracts with private concession companies that run stores, restaurants and other facilities.
Parks that will remain open account for 92 percent of the parks system’s annual visitation and 94 percent of its annual revenue, Coleman said.
“It’s clearly a sad day for parks,” said Ruskin Hartley, executive director of Save the Redwoods League. “We are talking about places that have been set aside by past generations, and now the state is closing the gate.”
Hartley said the effect of the cuts will fall disproportionately on rural communities, which depend heavily on tourism.
If the closures take effect as expected, Brown would become the first governor in California history to close state parks to save money.