You are here

Does the Federal Government Really Want to Seize Six California State Parks?


"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.


>> 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.

Wow. What ignorance. How about $100K+ pensions for thousands of retired (or double-dipping) government workers and billions on services to illegal aliens?

The marginal cost to federal management of most of the 6 properties wouldn't be that great: Angel Island & Mount Diablo would be just 2 more patches in GOGA; Pt. Mugu would become part of Santa Monica Mountains NRA (it may already be inside the authorized boundary); I would bet on Border Field reverting to FWS management as part of the San Diego / Sweetwater complex of refuges (good tern habitat). There aren't as obvious homes for Point Sur (its pretty small and outside the mission of Forest Service) and Fort Ord Dunes.

That said, my money's on CA using the loophole provided: to comply with the terms of the land transfers they can reduce operating hours (e.g., weekends only; summer weekdends only; who knows how far they can push it) as long as they keep some public access. Negotiations are allegedly underway.

My guess on the 60+ state parks that received funding from the program administered by NPS is that if Arnie trys to sell off the properties, liens _might_ be put on them to retrieve the federal funds, especially if the grants were used for land acquisition or facilities.

California shouldn't foist its fiscal responsibilities on the other states.

If the State of California can't protect its parks, let voluntary associations do it!

The time is ripe for voluntary conservation trusts to manage these lands! They've got a proven track record and are far more democratic than the cronyism forced down taxpayers' throats.

Things are going to change (maybe) in the next few years. The redistricting will no longer done by the politicians but by an independent panel, so that should cut down on the number of districts where the parties are entrenched. Hopefully, that should yield more compromise minded politicians.

This is all just classic California politics. The voters here (yes, that includes me, so I'll take some of the blame!), through our intiative system, have created a political-financial system that requires compromise on the part of our politicians for it to work. A large majority is required to pass a budget (requiring votes from members of both major parties), and a balanced budget is likewise required. Our problem is that we have elected politicians who refuse to compromise. If they won't compromise then the only thing any individual politician can really do is make noise and threats. Parks are loved by the people, so they become a powerful tool in the political arsenal. While parks here in California have been closed in the past for financial reasons, most of this is just political posturing. Will some parks be closed? Most likely. Will the State allow the feds to take over some of the jewels of the State Park system? Californian pride is not likely going to allow that to happen!!!

Pork, is hard to see when it is on your own plate... We all like to complain about pork spending, but then in your comments, you made the same assumptions that have kept this country in the pork barrel. You like to pick on the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as an example of political games, but yet you figure that since the Speaker of the House is from California that you have a greater chance to get the parks converted to national park service properties.

I agree with your article as a whole, but pork spending is not a bad thing to the person or group getting the money. Give the NPS an alotment of money and let them spend it as the see fit, without the micromanagement of Congress who is more interested in getting re-elected than doing right for the country.

I am in Ohio, and I think that several of those ocean front properties would make good NPS properties, and should be preserved. That is the reason it should get done, because the project is the right thing to do... not just because of who happens to live near it.

Personally I hope NPS does take over Angel Island--as the Ellis Island of the West Coast it ought to be a national historic site. It could be managed as part of GGNRA. Yes, NPS is short of money--but that is nothing new. The way most posters on this site opine, one would think this money shortage is inevitable; in reality it is just a matter of priorities. No, not every "worthy" natural or historical site can be part of our national park system. But that shouldn't mean that no more places may be included. Angel Island would be an excellent addition to the system. And, as pointed out, there are benefits for California were this to happen.

Unfortunately, our state is unmanageable for a whole host of reasons. Personally, I might be better off with the Feds owning Mt Diablo, since the state parks current policies on mountain biking are pretty restrictive in that park.

In the end, both sides will agree to some crappy solution that will only deflect the problem until next year but won't solve the systemic issue.

Add comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

National Parks Traveler's Essential Park Guide

Recent Forum Comments