"Drown me! Roast me! Hang me! Do whatever you please," said Brer Rabbit. "Only please, Brer Fox, please don't throw me into the briar patch."
[Brer Rabbit meets a Tar Baby, Uncle Remus tales]
California’s horrendous budget deficit of around $26 billion (down from about $42 billion in January) has forced Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to make some very difficult decisions. Carving away at the state budget has gone way past the fat-cutting stage and is now deep into muscle, sinew, and bone. Everything is painful. Nothing is safe. And sometimes you run into a budgetary snag like the one that has created “cause for pause” in the matter of pruning California’s state park system to save a few bucks.
Well, it’s actually more than a few bucks. Gov. Schwarzenegger figured he could save $143 million by closing 220 of California’s state parks. That’s just 0.55% of the budget deficit, but yes, that’s more than a few bucks.
Here’s the rub. The federal government has provided California’s state park system with hundreds of millions of dollars in subsidies over the past four decades (and more), and federal land has also been conveyed to the state of California to benefit the state park system. At least $286 million in federal funds have been funneled to the California state park system since 1965, and six of the 220 parks on the hit list occupy land transferred from federal ownership under the terms of the Federal Lands to Parks Program.
Now California has been reminded that these goodies came with strings attached. Closing the parks will bring repercussions. State parks that have received federal funding may not get federal funding in the future if the public is denied access to them even temporarily. Moreover, the state parks occupying land acquired from the federal government by transfer are subject to seizure and reversion to federal ownership if they are closed
In a letter dated June 8, Jon Jarvis, National Park Service Pacific West regional director, bluntly warned Gov. Schwarzenegger that all six California state parks occupying former federal land could revert to the U.S. government if the state fails to keep the parks open. Having been conveyed to the state through the Federal Lands to Parks Program, Jarvis pointed out, the parklands “must be open for public park and recreation use in perpetuity as a condition of the deed.”
You can read the full text of Jarvis' letter at this site.
Sounds pretty grim, doesn’t it? Especially the part about those six state parks reverting to federal ownership.
But wait a minute. Consider which six parks would revert to federal ownership. And consider whether federal ownership would be such a bad thing for the state of California.
The six state parks subject to reversion are Angel Island, (the top of )Mount Diablo, Point Sur State Historic Park, and three beach parks (Fort Ord Dunes, Point Mugu State Park, and Border Fields). These are not remote parks stuck way the hell and gone back in the boonies. They are situated where Californians can easily get at them. And they are mighty fine parcels of recreational land, too.
Angel Island, which variously served as a former federal military and immigration facility, sits in San Francisco Bay not far from Alcatraz and easily reachable by ferry. Day-trippers love to hike the trails and enjoy the view of The City by the Bay.
Mount Diablo is an easy drive to the east of San Francisco, and when you drive to the top of this ecological treasure you are rewarded with what is purported to be the longest-range view from a mountaintop anywhere in the coterminous 48 states. (I can personally attest that you can see all the way to Yosemite on a clear day.) It’s sure easy to see why the Navy used to operate a microwave relay station up there. Line-of-sight wise, you can’t beat it anywhere.
Point Sur State Historic Park is in coastal Big Sur, which is easily reachable via California Highway 1 (the most unrelentingly scenic coastal highway in North America) north from Los Angeles or south from San Francisco. The former Point Sur Naval Facility, the West Coast’s only Sound Surveillance System facility, was transferred to California State Parks (except for one building) in 2000. How gorgeous and special is Big Sur? A betting person would be well advised to bet that National Seashore #11 will be established right there at Big Sur.
The 979-acre Fort Ord Dunes State Park, once a rifle range area of the Fort Ord military base, commands four miles of oceanfront beach with drop-dead gorgeous views of Monterey Bay. Like Point Sur State Historic Park, Fort Ord Dunes State Park is highway accessible, but lots closer to Carmel and Monterey and San Francisco. (Fort Ord Dunes State Park was one of 48 state parks that Gov. Schwarzenegger tried to close in January 2008 as a cost-cutting measure.)
Situated on Highway 1 about 15 miles from Oxnard, the 13,300-acre Point Mugu State Park is in the Santa Monica Mountains, Malibu’s and the greater Los Angeles metro area’s recreational backyard. It’s got five miles of gorgeous ocean shoreline, tremendously diverse terrain (with more than 70 miles of hiking trails), and even a genuine wilderness area (the Boney Mountains State Wilderness Area). Wow!
Border Fields State Park, which is situated on the Mexican border just 15 miles south of San Diego, is an estuarine/beach realm with salt marsh, dune, and beach habitat that is extraordinarily natural for so heavily populated a region.
OK, so what would happen if these properties were to revert to federal ownership? Well, then the taxpayers of California would be relieved of the expense of operating the parks without losing the “free work” that these ecosystems perform. They probably wouldn’t even lose recreational access to these parklands. How bad could that be?
It’s inconceivable that the federal government would regain ownership of these parklands and then dispose of them without protecting their ecological/recreational qualities. It’s beyond the pale to think that the federal government would sit on these properties and deny public access to them.
California accounts for over ten percent of the entire U.S. population and a huge bounty of electoral votes. This is not to mention that Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the House, is a Californian. In your wildest imagination, can you conceive of a scenario in which California taxpayers get brutally shafted for temporarily closing those six parks as part of a desperate strategy to avoid a fiscal catastrophe?
Five will get you fifty that the reversion warning is an empty threat.