Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger intends to close far fewer than the 100 state parks that California State Parks said it would have to close as a result of budget cuts, the governor's spokesman said Tuesday.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the administration is looking at ways to cut the parks budget by $14.2 million that would result in fewer parks being closed. California State Parks officials have said that about 100 parks would have to be closed as a result of the cuts.
"Right now, we are going through those books," McLear said. "We don't believe them. We believe we can close far fewer parks. It doesn't make sense to us that they have to close 100 parks to make those savings."
The proclamation came as Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, held a hearing in Sausalito in which politicians, park advocates and citizens discussed the proposed closures. Among the things they talked about was the proposed 20 percent cut in the park department budget over the next two fiscal years, including the $14.2 million.
Department of Parks and Recreation officials claim those numbers mean more than 100 state parks will have to be closed.
McLear did not have a specific number or say where exactly the governor expected to find savings in the parks budget.
Panel members at the hearing warned that shutting down state parks may cost California more money than keeping them open, especially considering the legal quagmire that could result.
"We know that closing state parks won't save money. It will actually cost the state tax revenue," said Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation and one of 11 speakers at the packed auditorium at Cavallo Point, in Fort Baker.
The budget cuts were part of a deal signed in July by Schwarzenegger to erase a $24 billion budget gap this fiscal year. Park officials were supposed to tell the public last week which parks and beaches were going to be closed, but the announcement was indefinitely delayed. How they will keep cannabis growers and criminals - let alone hikers and bikers - off the land is unknown.
The daunting task of keeping lawyers out has also emerged as a pressing issue. State attorneys have said the state park system could be held liable for dangerous conditions on sidewalks, picnic areas, camping sites, parking lots and other structures, even if the injured claimant was in the park illegally.
The park district could protect itself by conducting regular inspections, but that would require employees. And even successfully defending a personal injury lawsuit can cost tens of thousands of dollars.
There may also be legal ramifications if a fire spreads from a closed state park onto adjacent property, according to a legal memorandum leaked to a Web site last week.
"Closing the parks would probably not benefit State Parks and could in fact increase its liability for dangerous condition of public property," states the memorandum prepared by state lawyers.
This article appeared on page A - 20 of the San Francisco Chronicle