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RB Point Cabrillo Light Station.JPGDemocratic state Sens. Joe Simitian and Noreen Evans today rolled out a proposal aimed at keeping the gates open at more than 50 California state parks set to close this summer.

The proposal, which will be heard by a Senate budget subcommittee Wednesday afternoon, includes shifting as much as $40 million from existing state accounts for road maintenance, septic system repairs and trails and off-highway vehicle funds to cover parks' costs. That money would be used for purposes consistent with the original intent of those funds, Evans and Simitian said.

Other recommendations include facilitating operating agreements with nonprofits, improving entry fee collection efforts and exploring other funding sources, such as license plates and concessions agreements. Some parks would still likely have to close, but supporters said they hoped those would be able to reopen in the future thanks to the plan.

State parks officials announced last year that 70 of the state's more than 270 parks would be targeted for closure due to budget cuts. The closures are projected to save about $22 million. The parks department has been able to form partnerships with nonprofits and local governments to keep 16 of those parks open. Richard Stapler, spokesman for Natural Resources Secretary John Laird, said officials are involved in substantive talks involving about a dozen additional parks.

Evans, whose Northern California district includes 20 parks on the original closure list, billed the proposals as alternatives to a move that she said would "devastate" local economic development, the state's natural resources and public enjoyment of parks.

"The state has never closed a state park. Not even in the Great Depression," the Santa Rosa Democrat said. "We have handled this challenge before in a way that was positive for the state parks."

Simitian called closing the parks is "fundamentally ill-conceived," especially given potential costs involved in shutting the properties down.

"Frankly the cost of one lawsuit from someone who has a horrible accident in a state park that was untended, the cost of fire suppression if there's no one on the scene could outstrip the savings pretty quickly," the Palo Alto Democrat said.

Department of Finance spokesman H.D. Palmer said while finance officials were briefed on the proposal yesterday, there are "a lot of specifics that we need to look at before we can give a more definitive response" about its viability. He said any changes to the Brown administration's current proposals on parks funding will be reflected in the governor's revised budget plan, which is expected to be released Monday.

One hundred state parks were saved from the chopping block in 2009, when then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger backed away from an earlier order to shut them down and directed officials to instead implement seasonal closures and cut back on maintenance and equipment costs. Other efforts to raise money for the parks, such as a 2010 ballot measure that would have increased the vehicle registration fee, have failed in recent years.

Simitian -- who chairs the Senate Budget Subcommittee No. 2 on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation -- said he is "cautiously optimistic" about the fate of the proposal.

"This is God's gift to California,' Simitian said of the state parks. "We're talking about putting up a 'do not enter' sign. I think people find that incomprehensible."

RELATED POSTS:
California officials announce closure of 70 state parks
See California state parks closure list

Editor's note: This post was updated at 3:15 p.m. with comments from H.D. Palmer.

PHOTO CREDIT: Guests walk from the inn to the lighthouse at the Point Cabrillo Light Station, a California state park in Mendocino County. Randall Benton / Sacramento Bee file, 2008.



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