With hikers and bikers crisscrossing a grassy hillside in front of her, California's state parks chief came to Santa Rosa Friday and defended the closing of 70 parks statewide, including Annadel State Park.
Ruth Coleman explained in an outdoor gathering at Spring Lake Park, just a short distance from Annadel, that a $22 million budget shortfall makes it impossible to keep open all the state's 278 parks.
Based on attendance and revenue, Jack London State Historic Park and Petaluma Adobe Historic State Park in Sonoma County also would be shut in July 2012 without passage of statewide tax extensions.
"In the case of Annadel, it doesn't make a lot of money," said Coleman, director of the Department of Parks and Recreation, as parkgoers strolled by under sunny skies. "It has high use but low revenue."
However, Coleman stressed there was still time to develop alternatives, which could involve partnerships with the private sector and non-profit groups. Local government could shoulder some of the costs, which in Sonoma County amount to about $1 million a year.
"We have a year to solve the problem," Coleman said. "I'm confident we'll find a solution."
Her remarks and those from state lawmakers were made at a special hearing of the Assembly parks committee convened at Spring Lake. Many of the 100 or so people listening under oak trees called for action.
Greg Sarris, chairman of a Sonoma County Indian tribe that is proposing a casino near Rohnert Park, vowed to contribute $2 million to $5 million a year for 20 years to state and regional parks.
The offer appeared to be contingent upon a compact with the governor to allow gaming at the casino owned by the Federated Indians of the Graton Rancheria.
Sarris urged state officials to look to tribal casinos elsewhere as a key source of park funding.