California to Shut 70 Parks to Help Close Budget Deficit

California will close a fourth of its parks to save $33 million over the next two years as leaders of the most-populous state work to close a $15.4 billion budget deficit.

The Parks and Recreation Department said it would close 70 of 278 sites from the redwoods of the northern coast to the deserts of the southeast. The Governor’s Mansion in Sacramento, no longer a residence, also will be shut. Those facilities draw 8 percent of park attendance.

“We regret closing any park,” Ruth Coleman, the state parks director, said in a statement. “But with the proposed budget reductions over the next two years, we can no longer afford to operate all parks.”

The closings were mandated by a bill that Governor Jerry Brown signed in March as part of a series of budget cuts that amounted to $12.5 billion. The measures reduced the state’s budget deficit from $26.6 billion.

In May 2009, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed shuttering three-quarters of state parks as a way to solve a $24 billion budget deficit. Lawmakers refused.

In deciding which parks to shut, parks officials said they wanted to preserve the most significant natural and cultural resources, maintain public access as much as practicable, and keep the closed parks in a condition good enough to be used by potential partners.

Eliminate 220 Jobs

The closures will eliminate 220 positions within the 2,400-employee parks department, although no workers will lose their jobs since there are 500 vacancies, spokesman Roy Stearns said. Seasonal workers aren’t included in that total, he said by telephone.

The California Republican Party criticized the closures, saying Brown could have cut other areas without affecting parks.

“If California families are such a priority to Jerry Brown, then why close down the public services that families enjoy the most?” party spokesman Mark Standriff said in a written statement.

Brown said he had little choice.

“We are experiencing turbulent times that necessitate deep -- almost unthinkable --- cuts to public services,” the governor said in a statement.

In addition to the parks shutdowns, Brown proposed to dispense with the Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board today. The panel hears unemployment and disability disputes with the Employment Development Department. Eliminating it would save as much as $1.2 million a year in salary and travel costs, he said.

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