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Castaic Lake to Remain Open Awhile Longer

L.A. County supervisors vote to give the state-owned park $150,000, keeping it running through Oct. 1 while more reliable long-term funding is sought.

September 04, 2003|Richard Fausset | Times Staff Writer

Thanks to a last-minute $150,000 bailout from the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, the cash-strapped Castaic Lake State Recreation Area will remain open through Oct. 1, giving officials and residents more time to work on a plan to save the park.

In another encouraging sign for the popular boating spot, state Assemblyman Keith Richman (R-Northridge) said Wednesday that the recreation area could also receive a one-time $900,000 cash infusion from unallocated state boating fees.

Richman, who has been working to save the 11,000-acre park, said a request for the funds would be included as part of a state budget bill to be introduced in the coming days.

Yet even if the legislation is approved, the money would not cover the lake's yearly losses of nearly $2 million, and Richman said the county would need to come up with funds as well.

"Pointing fingers is not going to do any good in this situation, and I think it's important that we come up with a solution," he said.

State and county officials have formed a task force to look for long-term strategies to keep the park open. These could include raising fees, creating more camping sites, attracting more revenue-generating events such as fishing tournaments and, possibly, turning some park operations over to private vendors, said county parks spokeswoman Sheila Ortega.

"[The task force is] trying to see if the state and the county can come to a decision to find a way the lake can support itself," said Tere Tucker, a member of the Castaic Area Town Council. "There's no way it shouldn't."

In recent months, state and county officials have bickered over who should pay to maintain the picturesque park, which is in the foothills north of Santa Clarita. Because of a lack of funding, the park was set to close this coming Sunday.

While officially a state park, Castaic Lake has been run by the county since 1969, when it signed a 50-year operating contract. Earlier this year, however, county parks officials, facing a $4-million budget hole, decided to turn the money-losing park back over to the state. In August, the state attorney general's office threatened to sue the county for breach of contract.

County supervisors unanimously approved the temporary bailout in a closed-session vote on Tuesday.

The park currently charges $6 for parking and $4 to $6 per boat launch. While some county officials said visitors would probably accept higher fees, county parks spokeswoman Ortega said state law could hamper the county's ability to raise them substantially.

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