How We Got Here

Accumulated Reductions That Have Made Today’s Decision Unavoidable

In the 1980s, California State Parks began deferring maintenance to the system, such things as repairing roofs, bathrooms, roads, fences and trails.  Since then, deferred maintenance has continued to grow due to the continued under-funding of the California State Parks’ maintenance budget.  Today, the deferred maintenance backlog for the system stands at just over $1.2 billion.  The annual shortfall in on-going maintenance is approximately $120 million.

In the early 1990s, California went through what was called the “Phoenix Program,” mandated by a State budget crisis.  This process resulted in a significant funding reduction and reorganization of California State Parks where in the Department eliminated 572 positions and went from having 5 “Regions” and 51 Districts to having no “Regions” and only 23 districts.  In addition, 30% of the Department’s management and supervisory positions were eliminated.

From 2001-02 through 2007-08, the California State Parks’ General Fund operating budget was reduced by $10.5 million.  (Actually, over that period, California State Parks’ General Fund budget was reduced by $65 million, but that reduction was partially offset by increases in fee revenue and transfers of $54.5 million, resulting in a net $10.5 million reduction).

During this same period, as California State Parks’ General Fund dollars were reduced, fees were raised to offset the reduction.  California State Parks has gone from the General Fund being 55% of the operating budget, to 35%, with fees raised to make up the difference.  It is important to note that raising fees can produce more revenue, but there is a risk of diminishing returns.  Fee increases may cause visitors to stop coming to the parks, forcing attendance to drop and revenue along with it.

In 2003-2004, during another budget reduction, California State Parks eliminated another 90 positions, reduced 23 Districts to 18, and relocated all field staff out of leased space into modular buildings on state property. The priority throughout these restructurings has been to maximize service to the public while maintaining a minimal level of protection for our natural and cultural resources.

Stated in economic terms, here’s what has happened to funding for California State Parks.  In 1990-91 the state spent $4.16 per visitor to state parks.  That figure has continued to drop ever since, with this latest 2009-10 budget reduction proposal bringing that figure to roughly $____/visitor.  As a result of these previous reductions, staffing levels at park units have already been reduced to minimal levels of service and protection for visitors. The Department has eliminated an entire level of management, capitalized on tremendous efficiency gains from automation and has deferred more than a billion dollars of needed maintenance.

Further reductions, as proposed in the Governor’s 2009-10 budget, would take service and protection levels below acceptable levels, and can only be met by eliminating positions and closing state parks.  By closing state parks and eliminating positions, remaining resources can be consolidated and shifted to other state parks to provide for services necessary to keep those parks open and operating.  The reductions created to meet this budget were designed in such a manner so that current minimal service levels will be maintained at units which remain open.