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Sen. Simitian Co-Authors Plan to Save 50 State Parks Slated for Closure

State Sen. Joe Simitian says it will cost Californians 50 to 60 cents a year to keep the state parks slated for closure July 1 open.

Two state senators from the Bay Area unveiled a "sustainable funding proposal" to help keep open 50 state parks that are slated for closure on July 1 because of revenue shortfalls.

State Sens. Joseph Simitian, D-Palo Alto, whose district encompasses Capitola-Soquel and Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa said the proposal will be heard Wednesday afternoon in the Senate Budget Committee #2 on Resources, Environmental Protection and Energy and Transportation chaired by Simitian.

The state Department of Parks and Recreation in March targeted 70 state parks for closure on July 1 because of an $11 million budget shortfall this year and an anticipated $22 million budget annual deficit starting July 1.

Evans and Simitian said 18 of the 70 parks on the closure list have reached operating agreements with local or state nonprofit agencies. Evans said 20 of the 70 parks slated for closure are in her district that includes Solano, Napa, Sonoma, Mendocino, Lake and Humboldt counties.

The senators' seven-point sustainable funding proposal for state parks includes tapping $10 million annually from the Department of Motor Vehicles' $500 million motor vehicles account for public roads.

The money would be used to maintain public roads and facilities in the state parks and for enforcement of traffic laws on them. 

The State Parks Department has an ongoing $15 million deficit for roads and trails maintenance and for service provided by park rangers related to motor vehicles in parks, Simitian and Evans said.

The funding plan also recommends appropriating $10 million annually as long-term loans from the Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund for five years to replace the State Parks and Recreation funding and to complement bond funding for water quality and septic systems repairs in the state parks.

The senators also recommended using $21 million, or one-third of the state funds allocated toward local assistance programs, for trails and other state parks uses.

The funding plan requires no new revenue and will cost a Californian 50-60 cents a year to keep the parks open, Evans and Simitian said.

Simitian said Californians are finding it difficult to understand why the parks are closing and when they are open.

"This (the state parks) is God's gift to California and we're talking about shutting the gates," he said. 

"The goal is to get past the year to year crisis management and put in place a plan to rebuild state parks," Simitian said. 

During a conference call with the media about the funding plan this morning, Evans said the $70 increase in a state parks pass will cause lower attendance.

Both Evans sand Simitian said there is no possible way to close some parks.

"You just can't put a fence around thousands of acres. People will still show up, but what happens then to the litter, the restrooms and campfire monitoring," Simitian asked.

By closing a park, the state is saying there will be no services available, Simitian said.

Both senators said they are cautiously optimistic the committee will be receptive Wednesday to the sustainable funding proposal.

--Bay City News

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