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Park system in disarray and disrepair, report says

March 25, 2013|By Chris Megerian
  • Tourists visit the famous Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle. A new report says the former hilltop home of William Randolph Hearst is one of dozens of sites the state parks department may no longer be able to manage.
Tourists visit the famous Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle. A new report says… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)

SACRAMENTO -- California’s park system has been marred by management problems that run much deeper than an accounting scandal revealed last year, according to a new report released by a government oversight agency on Monday morning.

The problems have resulted in an ossified parks department that needs to cede control of scores of natural and historic sites, the report says. If changes aren’t made, parks will probably have to close.

The study is the result of a yearlong examination by the nonpartisan Little Hoover Commission, which advises lawmakers on policy issues.

State parks include some of California’s most cherished lands, from redwood forests to hundreds of miles of coastline. But the commission says the state doesn’t have the expertise, the technology or the funding to adequately run its extensive network of 280 parks.

The sprawling Hearst Castle in San Simeon might be one of the sites the state will need to give up because maintenance costs are so high, the report says.

“We can’t do it the way we’ve been doing it,” said Stuart Drown, the commission’s executive director. “The existing model doesn’t work to support the number of parks that we have.”

Budget cuts have already resulted in dozens of state parks being operated by private organizations or local governments. Those agreements will need to be expanded, according to the commission.

Problems with the parks system have been highly publicized after officials discovered $54 million stashed away at the department. About $20 million had been deliberately hidden, according to a subsequent investigation by the state attorney general’s office.

Despite the hidden money, years of budget cuts have taken their toll at the parks department, the report says. The cost of overdue maintenance is pegged at more than $1 billion, and parks suffer from shoddy roads, decrepit bathrooms and leaky roofs.

“California allowed its justly renowned park system to fall into disrepair, saw visitor numbers drop and generated concern about the public trust legacy it is leaving to future generations,” wrote commission Chairman Daniel Hancock in a letter to top lawmakers.

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Twitter: @chrismegerian

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