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2nd Wave of Fee Cuts to Hit Beaches

Recreation: Charges would fall in July elsewhere but not until January locally under governor's plan.


Gov. Gray Davis is proposing to slash park fees, but it won't happen in Ventura County until January--too late for beach season.

In order to make the parks more affordable for low-income Californians, the proposed new fees, announced Monday, would be reduced at many locations July 1 from as much as $6 for day-use to $2. Davis' proposal must be approved by the Legislature, but little opposition is expected.

Overnight camping fees, which now are as high as $37 for premium sites, would fall to as low as $12. The cuts are possible because of the state's $9-billion budget surplus.

The news was almost universally welcomed by county beachgoers and campers, who have grown accustomed to increased fees over the last decade. Most said they don't mind holding off on the reduced rates until next year.

"I can always go for saving some money," said Ventura resident Julie Cruz, who pays $5 to bring her 4-year-old son, Justin, to play at San Buenaventura State Beach. "I don't mind waiting until January. I mean, they could be doing nothing."

Among the Southern California spots targeted for the first round of fee cuts are Will Rogers State Historic Park, Malibu Creek State Park, Topanga State Park and Red Rock Canyon State Park in Los Angeles County.

State beaches--including Ventura County's McGrath, San Buenaventura, Emma Wood, Thornhill Broome and Point Mugu--will be excluded because park officials expect they will need more time to prepare for bigger crowds.

"We have to hire more people. We have to have budgets. More people will use more water, and that costs money," said Steve Treynor, superintendent of the Channel Coast district of the state Department of Parks and Recreation.

Treynor said the local park district will have to increase staffing about 37%, adding as many as 60 jobs to the current seasonal high of 150. The district currently makes about $3.6 million annually from parking fees.

Treynor estimates that will drop to about $2.3 million should the cuts take effect. The state estimates that the cuts will result in a loss of about $30 million in revenue statewide, which would be made up from the state's main pool of tax dollars.

Fees rose dramatically over the past decade in order to help the state cope with deficits during a recession. In Ventura County, the $5 parking fee at state-run beaches will go down to the $2 fee last seen at the beginning of the '90s, Treynor said.

"We really want to open up the parks," Treynor said. "That's exactly what we're in business for. We want people to visit."

For San Fernando resident Tina Sheffield and her friend, Michelle Jordan of Newbury Park, the expected fee drop could be a mixed blessing.

As she unpacked at her campsite at McGrath State Beach, Sheffield said she suspected the parks department was waiting until January to lower fees in hopes of squeezing out a few more bucks from people who have already made their summer reservations.

Sheffield said she wasn't even sure she wanted the parks to be open to more people. During the summer at McGrath, she said, the campground can already be as crowded as a Bruce Springsteen concert--and as tough to get into.

"That's why we came during the week," Sheffield said. "During the summer there are people camping outside the gates just to get in."

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