When word came from Gov. Jerry Brown in Sacramento Friday that Chatsworth’s Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park was on a hit list of 70 parks facing shutdown, the park-using community was already prepared.
They’d gone through this before when former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger used the park-closure threat as a bargaining chip as he tried to balance his budget. When the budget passed, the parks remained open.
“Closing state parks is not a task that gives anyone joy, but we are experiencing turbulent times that necessitate deep – almost unthinkable – cuts to public services. I will work hard in the coming weeks to reach an agreement that will allow us to avoid deeper and more disruptive reductions,” said Gov. Jerry Brown.
California faces a $26 billion budget deficit.
But, the park community, with the assistance of the Chatsworth Neighborhood Council, has already trained several classes of docents who could patrol the park and keep it operating once the state withdraws.
The fear has always been that when parks eventually close, nothing will prevent people from riding horses, walking or cycling into parks to hike on trails. That could lead to increased homeless encampments, marijuana growing and fires, which could spread to nearby private properties. Chatsworth Park South is already closed because of lead contamination in the soil. The state park surrounds much of Chatsworth Park South.
“Our two-year-old park volunteer program spent over 3,700 hours [on patrol] in 2010,” said Teena Takata, a CPA, land-use committee secretary of the Neighborhood Council, and a park activist.
There is a core group of about 45 docents trained by State Park Rangers to state standards, and another 10 to 12 leaders, according to John Luker, who has been vice president of the Santa Susana Mountain Park Assn.
State Parks Director Ruth Coleman told the San Jose Mercury News Friday that "we would expect to start seeing padlocks after Labor Day." But by late afternoon, state parks spokesman Roy Stearns was saying the closures wouldn't begin until next summer because of the time needed to relocate or lay off staff, the Mercury New reported.
Chatsworth’s Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park is located in the Santa Susana Mountains on the border between Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. It is an undeveloped hiking park that is rich in historical, cultural, and natural resources. Due to previous budget cuts and staff reductions, State Parks depends heavily on volunteers and partnerships to help keep the park clean, safe, and accessible for the community.
So, local docents, patrol the park, map trails, organize citizen watch hikes and are preparing a new visitor information center.
“Volunteers work as part of the Park Observer program. [They are involved in] graffiti abatement and lead hikes that showcase park history and natural features,” Takata said.
“Because the park is relatively small and has no formal attendance records or revenue, it always is vulnerable during periods of state budget cuts,” Takata said.
And that’s the guideline used by the state in choosing which of the 278 parks to close. Officials worked to keep open those with the most attendance and historical significance, as well as those that bring in the most revenue.
“We believe that the Sacramento budget cutter never has seen the sandstone giants that characterize the aptly-named Chatsworth Formation, never hiked the historic Devils Slide that was a stagecoach route, and never has seen a red sticky monkey flower, such as we only see in Chatsworth,” Takata said.
“On behalf of our park and our community, we appeal to community members to write Gov. Jerry Brown, [c/o State Capitol, Suite 1173, Sacramento, CA 95814, Phone: 916-445-2841, Fax: 916-558-3160] requesting that the Santa Susana State Historic Park not be closed,” Takata said.
Gov. Brown has not yet signed the $33 million in cuts from the parks budget approved earlier this year, so whether the closures will be included in a final budget is unclear. On Monday, he is scheduled to announce his revised budget, and new state revenue projections.
Parks Director Coleman has said the remaining parks may face a cut in services, such as closing bathrooms, lifeguard towers and other facilities throughout the system to cut $11 million in the coming fiscal year and $22 million in the 2012-13 fiscal year.
If the closures take effect as expected, Brown would become the first governor in California history to close state parks to save money.
To volunteer or for more information on local hikes, see http://ssmpa.com or call 818-784-4849.
Here is the list announced Friday:
- Anderson Marsh State Historic Park
- Annadel State Park
- Antelope Valley Indian Museum
- Austin Creek State Recreation Area
- Bale Grist Mill State Historic Park
- Benbow Lake State Recreation Area
- Benicia Capitol State Historic Park
- Benicia State Recreation Area
- Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park
- Bothe-Napa Valley State Park
- Brannan Island State Recreation Area
- California Mining & Mineral Museum
- Candlestick Point State Recreation Area
- Castle Crags State Park
- Castle Rock State Park
- China Camp State Park
- Colusa-Sacramento River State Recreation Area
- Del Norte Coast Redwoods State Park
- Fort Humboldt State Historic Park
- Fort Tejon State Historic Park
- Garrapata State Park
- George J. Hatfield State Recreation Area
- Governor's Mansion State Historic Park
- Gray Whale Cove State Beach
- Greenwood State Beach
- Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park
- Hendy Woods State Park
- Henry W. Coe State Park
- Jack London State Historic Park
- Jug Handle State Natural Reserve
- Leland Stanford Mansion State Historic Park
- Limekiln State Park
- Los Encinos State Historic Park
- Malakoff Diggins State Historic Park
- Manchester State Park
- McConnell State Recreation Area
- McGrath State Beach
- Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve
- Morro Strand State Beach
- Moss Landing State Beach
- Olompali State Historic Park
- Palomar Mountain State Park
- Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park
- Picacho State Recreation Area
- Pio Pico State Historic Park
- Plumas-Eureka State Park
- Point Cabrillo Light Station
- Portola Redwoods State Park
- Providence Mountains State Recreation Area
- Railtown 1897 State Historic Park
- Russian Gulch State Park
- Saddleback Butte State Park
- Salton Sea State Recreation Area
- Samuel P. Taylor State Park
- San Pasqual Battlefield State Historic Park
- Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park
- Santa Susana Pass State Historic Park
- Shasta State Historic Park
- South Yuba River State Park
- Standish-Hickey State Recreation Area
- Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
- Tomales Bay State Park
- Tule Elk State Natural Reserve
- Turlock Lake State Recreation Area
- Twin Lakes State Beach
- Weaverville Joss House State Historic Park
- Westport-Union Landing State Beach
- William B. Ide Adobe State Historic Park
- Woodson Bridge State Recreation Area
- Zmudowski State Beach