Should it have never been in danger of closing?
Two secret stashes totaling $53 million at the California Department of Parks and Recreation have come to light this week, prompting an investigation by the state’s attorney general, the Friday morning resignation of parks director Ruth Coleman and questions about whether the money might have averted the closure of 70 state parks due to budget cuts.
The Sacramento Bee reported news of the scandal this morning. In an afternoon press conference call plagued by technical problems, Natural Resources Secretary John Laird said the money—$20 million in the State Parks and Recreation Fund and $33 million in the Off-Highway Vehicle Fund—had been accumulating for 12 years, and that the parks department had been underreporting it to the Department of Finance. A recently appointed deputy director of parks administration, Aaron Robertson, discovered the discrepancy.
The situation begs the question of whether the money could have prevented parks closures. In May the Natural Resources Agency released a list of 70 state parks to be closed in order to save $22 million. Most of those parks have actually remained open to some degree, thanks to civic organizations like Friends of Santa Cruz State Parks that stepped up to operate the parks, if only on a limited or temporary basis.