State planning to add $70 to cost of annual parks pass
Published: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 11, 2012 at 6:45 p.m.
California State Parks is planning to increase the price of annual park passes by as much as $70 on May 1, another example of park users being asked to pay more to avoid more service reductions or parks being shut.
The cost of an annual day use pass that is valid for all California parks will jump from $125 to $195. The Golden Poppy pass, which provides entrance to 98 parks, including several in Sonoma County, will go from $90 to $125.
State parks officials have yet to announce the increases, which were outlined in a memo sent to all park employees last week and obtained by The Press Democrat.
Roy Stearns, a state parks spokesman, said Wednesday the park pass increases — the first since 2009 — are necessary to offset service reductions.
“We don’t like raising fees. But the cost of everything is going up,” Stearns said.
But at least one critic questioned the wisdom of raising park fees at a time when parks offer scaled-back services or none at all.
“If demand for your product is dropping, the last thing in the world you want to do is hike your price. No economist in the world would support that,” said Philip Sales, who was Sonoma County’s chief park planner from 1988 to 2006.
The fee increases reflect a growing sentiment that park users will have to pay more out of their own pockets as Sacramento grapples with budget deficits. Last year, Gov. Jerry Brown ordered $22 million cut from the state parks budget to help solve a much larger deficit.
Even as they plan to raise fees, state parks officials are planning to shut dozens of parks July 1 to save money. The state originally announced plans to shut 70 of California’s 278 parks. Officials now say they have agreements to keep 12 open and hope an additional 34 will be spared.
On Tuesday, the state announced it had reached an agreement with a nonprofit to keep Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen open past the July 1 deadline.
Annadel State Park in Santa Rosa, Sugarloaf Ridge State Park east of Kenwood and Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Guerneville remain on the closure list.
Such shutdowns would pose a dilemma for Allen Barrett, a retired UPS driver from Rohnert Park, who said he’d be willing to spend $195 for an annual park pass — but not if his favorite parks are closed.
“I don’t buy it to go to San Simeon or to Donner,” Barrett said. “I buy it to go local.”
Stearns said state parks expects to sell almost 25 percent fewer passes after the fee increases take effect. Nonetheless, the agency is projecting an additional $1.5 million in annual revenue from passes that are purchased after May 1.
Stearns acknowledged the fee increases could deter some people from visiting state parks.
“But there are still a whole bunch of parks where you can bring the whole family and stay all day for 10 bucks,” he said.
In an email to State Parks Director Ruth Coleman, Sales wrote he was “absolutely baffled” by the agency’s marketing strategy. He urged Coleman to simplify the pass program, cut the price of the pass, develop incentives and make the passes more available through retailers.
Sales implemented that strategy when he was with county parks and the result was the agency going from selling less than 500 regional park passes in 1992 to more than 12,000 last year.
But Sales said he received a cool reception in February when he met with state parks officials in Sacramento with a proposal on how they could implement a similar pass program statewide.
“They provided a litany of ‘can’t work, won’t work’ comments,” said Sales, who also is chairman of a committee that is trying to prevent the closure of the Petaluma Adobe State Historic Park in July.
State parks sells about 65,000 passes annually, which is not very many relative to the state’s population.
More than 60 percent of those passes are sold in Southern California park districts where surfing is popular, Sales said.
Caryl Hart, Sonoma County’s parks director and also chairwoman of the California Parks and Recreation Commission, said the county’s pass program works because people can easily and quickly recoup the money they spent on the pass.
“A lot of people don’t have state parks within driving distance,” she said.
Increasing the price of park passes is only one way officials are planning to raise additional revenues. Other ideas include expanding paid parking areas and installing credit card machines or other technologies to make it easier for people to pay.
“Whether it’s good or bad, I think it’s necessary,” said Assemblyman Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, who has introduced legislation that would overhaul the state’s parks system. “This isn’t just parks. Every part of state government that can rely less on the general fund, efforts are being made to do that.”
Katherine Hastings, a Santa Rosa poet and radio host, said she is willing to pay $195 for a state park pass, which she said is a “lot less than what people spend on gym memberships.”
“Just walking into Annadel is such a privilege,” she said. “I wouldn’t want that to go away.”
You can reach Staff Writer Derek Moore at 521-5336 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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