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State Parks Department Debacle Draws Ire

One assemblyman reacts to reports that agency hit $54 million despite park closures.

Assemblyman Jared Huffman called for more transparency of the California Parks and Recreation Department this week following revelations the department reportedly withheld $54 million in state money for 12 years despite its recent plans to close 70 parks because of a $22 million budget shortfall.

The revelations followed an investigation by The Sacramento Bee.

when various groups, including private citizens, nonprofits and government officials stepped in to preserve 30 of the 70 state parks that were slated for closure on July 1, due to California’s budget crisis. The department was asked to reduce its budget by $22 million for the next two fiscal years, or before June 2013.

Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Natural Resources Agency Undersecretary Janelle Beland acting interim director of the Parks and Recreation Department after the department's Director Ruth Coleman resigned.

The department's Deputy Director Michael Harris was fired.

"This is very troubling and frustrating news, especially at a time when my colleagues and I, along with hundreds of California residents, have worked diligently over the past several years to scrape up enough funds and resources to help save 70 state parks from closure due to budget cuts," Huffman, D-San Rafael, said.

"While many of these state parks have been saved, it is only temporary relief as we continue to secure a more sustainable funding stream," Huffman said.

"I find it shocking that $54 million in state funds were kept off the books over the past several years, when we've been told several times by State Parks officials during budget negotiations that the funding wasn't there to keep all our parks functioning," Huffman said.

A preliminary investigation by the Natural Resources Agency revealed $20.3 million of the money that was not reported to the state Department of Finance was in the State Parks and Recreation Fund and $33.4 million was in the Off Highway Vehicle Fund.

"The only good news I can see from this scandal is that it will bring much-needed transparency, accountability, and a serious 'reset' to an agency that desperately needs it," Huffman said.

"One thing that's clear from this scandal is the state has the duty to keep every park open while we clean house at State Parks and resolve problems," Huffman said.

Many nonprofit agencies, community groups and cities and counties in the state succeeded in their efforts to keep their parks on the closure list open after July 1. A call seeking comment from the California Parks and Recreation Department was not immediately returned.

—By Bay City News Service

James George July 22, 2012 at 06:16 PM
It hasn't been made clear why the Director did this. I for one would like to know what the motive was.
Isis Moonheart July 23, 2012 at 02:18 AM
GREED jail time for thieves

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